I SAN DIEGO j
"RINTED IN U.S
The Captain tore at the shoulders and reck of the gray horse with
his gleaming teclli
By HAROLD TITUS
With Frontispiece in Colors
By CHARLES M. RUSSEU*
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York
Published by Arrangements with RAND. MCNALLY & COMPANY
By RAND MCNALLY & COMPANY
I. DENUNCIATION 7
II. A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST . . .21
III. "I VE DONE MY PICKIN" .... 36
IV. THE TROUBLE HUNTER 48
V. JED PHILOSOPHIZES 62
VI. AMBITION Is BORN 74
VII. WITH HOOP AND TOOTH 89
VIII. A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR .... 98
IX. PURSUIT 106
X. CAPTURE 120
XI. A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE . . .131
XII. WOMAN WANTS 141
XIII. VB FIGHTS 151
XIV. THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE . . . .163
XV. MURDER 181
XVI. THE CANDLE BURNS 192
XVII. GREAT MOMENTS 201
XVIII. THE LIE 2x4
XIX. THROUGH THE NIGHT 226
XX. THE LAST STAND 235
XXL GUNS CRASH 245
XXII. TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN . .254
XXIII. LIFE, THE TROPHY 265
XXIV. VICTORY 276
XXV. "THE LIGHT!" 290
XXVI. To THE VICTOR 297
"_ I CONQUERED"
DANNY LENOX wanted a drink. The desire
came to him suddenly as he stood looking
down at the river, burnished by bright young day.
It broke in on his lazy contemplation, wiped out
the indulgent smile, and made the young face
serious, purposeful, as though mighty consequence
depended on satisfying the urge that had just
come up within him.
He was the sort of chap to whom nothing much
had ever mattered, whose face generally bore
that kindly, contented smile. His grave con
sideration had been aroused by only a scant
variety of happenings from the time of a pam
pered childhood up through the gamut of bubbling
boyhood, prep school, university, polo, clubs, and
a growing popularity with a numerous clan until
he had approached a state of established and
widely recognized worthlessness.
Economics did not bother him. It mattered
not how lavishly he spent ; there had always been
more forthcoming, because Lenox senior had a
world of the stuff. The driver of his taxicab
8 "_I CONQUERED"
just now whirling away seemed surprised when
Danny waved back change, but the boy did
not bother himself with thought of the bill he
had handed over.
Nor did habits which overrode established
procedure for men cause him to class himself
apart from the mass. He remarked that the
cars zipping past between him and the high
river embankment were stragglers in the morn
ing flight businessward ; but he recognized no
difference between himself and those who scooted
toward town, intent on the furtherance of seri
What might be said or thought about his
obvious deviation from beaten, respected paths
was only an added impulse to keep smiling with
careless amiability. It might be commented
on behind fans in drawing rooms or through
mouths full of food in servants halls, he knew.
But it did not matter.
However something mattered. He wanted
And it was this thought that drove away the
smile and set the lines of his face into seriousness,
that sent him up the broad walk with swinging,
decisive stride, his eyes glittering, his lips taking
moisture from a quick-moving tongue. He needed
Danny entered the Lenox home up there on
the sightly knoll, fashioned from chill- white
stone, staring composedly down on the drive
from its many black-rimmed windows. The
heavy front door shut behind him with a muf
fled sound like a sigh, as though it had been
waiting his coming all through the night, just
as it had through so many nights, and let sup
pressed breath slip out in relief at another return.
A quick step carried him across the vestibule
within sight of the dining-room doorway. He
flung his soft hat in the general direction of a
cathedral bench, loosed the carelessly arranged
bow tie, and with an impatient jerk unbuttoned
the soft shirt at nis full throat. Of all things,
from conventions to collars, Danny detested those
which bound. And just now his throat seemed to
be swelling quickly, to be pulsing; and already
the glands of his mouth responded to the thought
of that which was on the buffet in a glass decanter
amber and clear and
At the end of the hallway a door stood open,
and Danny s glance, passing into the room it
disclosed, lighted on the figure of a man stooping
over a great expanse of table, fumbling with
papers fumbling a bit slowly, as with age, the
boy remarked even in the flash of a second his
mind required to register a recognition of his
Danny stopped. The yearning of his throat,
the call of his tightening nerves, lost potency for
the moment; the glitter of desire in his dark eyes
softened quickly. He threw back his handsome
he ad with a gesture of affection that was almost
io "_I CONQUERED"
girlish, in spite of its muscular strength, and the
smile came back, softer, more indulgent.
His brow clouded a scant instant when he
turned to look into the dining room as he walked
down the long, dark, high-ceilinged hall, and his
step hesitated. But he put the impulse off,
going on, with shoulders thrown back, rubbing
his palms together as though wholesomely happy.
So he passed into the library.
"Well, father, it s a good morning to you!"
At the spontaneous salutation the older man
merely ceased moving an instant. He remained
bent over the table, one hand arrested in the
act of reaching for a document. It was as
though he held his breath to listen or to cal
The son walked across to him, approaching
from behind, and dropped a hand on the stooping,
"How go "
Danny broke his query abruptly, for the other
straightened with a half -spoken word that was,
at the least, utmost impatience; possibly a word
which, fully uttered, would have expressed dis
gust, perhaps even loathing! And on Danny
was turned such a mask as he had never seen
before. The cleanly shaven face was dark. The
cold blue eyes flashed a chill fire and the grim
slit of a tightly closed mouth twitched, as did
the fingers at the skirts of the immaculate coat.
Lenox senior backed away, putting out a hand
to the table, edging along until a corner of it
was between himself and his heir. Then the
hand, fingers stiffly extended, pressed against
the table top. It trembled.
The boy flushed, then smiled, then sobered. On
the thought of what seemed to him the certain
answer to the strangeness of this reception, his
voice broke the stillness, filled with solicitude.
"Did I startle you?" he asked, and a smile
broke through his concern. "You jumped as
Again he broke short. His father s right hand,
palm outward, was raised toward him and moved
quickly from side to side. That gesture meant
silence! Danny had seen it used twice before
- once when a man of political power had let
his angered talk rise in the Lenox house until
it became disquieting; once when a man came
there to plead. And the gesture on those occa
sions had carried the same quiet, ominous con
viction that it now impressed on Danny.
The voice of the old man was cold and hard,
almost brittle for lack of feeling.
"How much will you take to go?" he asked,
and breathed twice loudly, as though struggling
to hold back a bursting emotion.
Danny leaned slightly forward from his hips
and wrinkled his face in his inability to under
"What?" He drawled out the word. "Once
12 "__I CONQUERED"
"How much will you take to go?"
Again the crackling, colorless query, by its
chill strength narrowing even the thought which
must transpire in the presence of the speaker.
How much will I take to go ? " repeated Danny.
"How much what? To go where?"
Lenox senior blinked, and his face darkened.
His voice lost some of its edge, became a trifle
muffled, as though the emotion he had breathed
hard to suppress had come up into his throat and
adhered gummily to the words.
How much money how much money will
you take to go away from here ? Away from me ?
Away from New York ? Out of my sight out
of my way?"
Once more the fingers pressed the table top
and the fighting jaw of the gray-haired man
protruded slowly as the younger drew nearer
a faltering step, two three, until he found
support against the table.
There across the corner of the heavy piece of
furniture they peered at each other; one in silent,
mighty rage; the other with eyes widening,
quick, confusing lights playing across their depths
as he strove to refuse the understanding.
How much money to go away from New
York from you? Out of your way?"
Young Danny s voice rose in pitch at each
word as with added realization the strain on his
emotions increased. His body sagged forward
and the hands on the table bore much of its
weight; so much that the elbows threatened to
give, as had his knees.
"To go away why ? Why is this ?
In his query was something of the terror of a
frightened child; in his eyes something of the look
of a wounded beast.
"You ask me why!"
Lenox senior straightened with a jerk and fol
lowed the exclamation with something that had
been a laugh until, driven through the rage within
him, it became only a rattling rasp in his throat.
"You ask me why!" he repeated. "You ask
His voice dropped to a thin whisper; then,
anger carrying it above its normal tone :
"You stand here in this room, your face like
suet from months and years of debauchery, your
mind unable to catch my idea because of the
poison you have forced on it, because of the
stultifying thoughts you have let occupy it,
because of the ruthless manner in which you have
wasted its powers of preception, of judgment,
and ask me why!"
In quick gesture he leveled a vibrating finger
at the face of his son and with pauses between the
words declared : You are why !
Danny s elbows bent still more under the
weight on them, and his lips worked as he tried
to force a dry throat through the motions of
swallowing. On his face was reflected just
one emotion surprise. It was not rage,
i 4 "_I CONQUERED"
not resentment, not shame, not fear just
He was utterly confused by the abruptness
of his father s attack; he was unable to plumb
the depths of its significance, although an inher
ent knowledge of the other s moods told him
that he faced disaster.
Then the older man was saying:
"You have stripped yourself of everything
that God and man could give you. You have
thrown the gems of your opportunity before your
swinish desires. You have degenerated from the
son your mother bore to a worthless, ambition-
less, idealless, thoughtless drunkard!"
Danny took a half -step closer to the table,
his eyes held on those others with mechanical
"Father but, dad- he tried to protest.
Again the upraised, commanding palm.
"I have stood it as long as I can. I have
suggested from time to time that you give seri
ous consideration to things about you and to
your future; suggested, when a normal young
man would have gone ahead of his own volition
to meet the exigencies every individual must
face sooner or later.
"But you would have none of it! From your
boyhood you have been a waster. I hoped once
that all the trouble you gave us was evidence of
a spirit that would later be directed toward a
good end. But I was never justified in that.
"You wasted your university career. Why,
you were n t even a good athlete ! You man
aged to graduate, but only to befog what little
hope then remained to me.
"You have had everything you could want;
you had money, friends, and your family name.
What have you done? Wasted them! You had
your polo string and the ability to play a great
game, but what came of it? You d rather sit
in the clubhouse and saturate yourself with drink
and with the idle, parasitic thoughts of the crowd
"You have dropped low and lower until, every
thing else gone, you are now wasting the last
thing that belongs to you, the fundamental thing
in life your vitality !
"Oh, don t try to protest! Those sacks under
your eyes ! Your shoulders are n t as straight
as they were a year ago; you don t think as
quickly as you did when making a pretense of
playing polo; your hand isn t steady for a man
of twenty-five. You re going; you re on the
"You have wasted yourself, flung yourself
away, and not one act or thought of your experi
ence has been worth the candle ! Now what
will you take to get out?"
The boy before him moved a slow step back
ward, and a flush came up over his drawn face.
"You he began. Then he stopped and
drew a hand across his eyes, beginning the
16 "__I CONQUERED"
movement slowly and ending with a savage jerk.
You never said a word before ! You never inti
mated you thought this ! You never you -
He floundered heavily under the stinging con
viction that of such was his only defense!
"No!" snapped his father, after waiting for
more to come. "I never said anything before
not like this. You smiled away whatever I
suggested. Nothing mattered nothing except
debauchery. Now you ve passed the limit
You re a common drunk!"
His voice rose high and higher; he commenced
"You live only to wreck yourself. Yours is
the fault and the blame !
"It is natural for me to be concerned. I ve
hung on now too long, hoping that you would
right yourself and justify the hopes people have
had in you. I planned, years ago, to have you
take up my work where I must soon leave off -
to go on in my place, to finish my life for me as
I began yours for you! I ve had faith that you
would do this, but you won t you can t!
"That isn t all. You re holding me back. I
must push on now harder than ever, but with
the stench of your misdeeds always in my nos
trils it is almost an impossibility."
Danny raised his hands in a half-gesture of
pleading, but the old man motioned him back.
"Don t be sorry; don t try to explain. This
had to come. It s an accumulation of years.
I have no more faith in you. If I thought you
could ever rally I d give up everything and
help you, but not once in your life have you shown
me that you possessed one impulse to be of use."
His voice dropped with each word, and its
return to the cold normal sent a stiffness into the
boy s spine. His head went up, his chin out;
his hands closed slowly.
"How much money will you take to get out?"
The old man moved from behind the table
corner and approached Danny, walking slowly,
with his hands behind him. He came to a stop
before the boy, slowly unbuttoned his coat, reached
to an inner pocket, and drew out a checkbook.
Danny s gesture, carried out, surely would
have resulted in a blow strong enough to send
the book spinning across the room ; but he stopped
His eyes were puffed and bloodshot; his pulse
hammered loudly under his ears, and the rush
of blood made his head roar. Before him floated
a mist, fogging thought as it did his vision.
The boy s voice was scarcely recognizable as
he spoke. It was hard and cold somewhat
like the one which had so scourged him.
"Keep your money," he said, looking squarely
at his father at the cost of a peculiar, unreal
effort. "I ll get out and without your help.
Some day I ll I 11 show you what a puny
thing this faith of yours is!"
i8 "_I CONQUERED"
The elder Lenox, buttoning his coat with brisk
motions, merely said, "Very well." He left the
Danny heard his footsteps cross the hall,
heard the big front door sigh when it closed as
though it rejoiced at the completion of a dis
Then he shut his eyes and struck his thighs
twice with stiff forearms. He was boiling, blood
and brain! At first he thought it anger; perhaps
anger had been there, but it was not the chief
factor of that tumult.
It was humiliation. The horrid, unanswerable
truth had seared Danny s very body witness
the anguished wrinkles on his brow and his
molten consciousness could find no argument to
justify himself, even to act as a balm!
"He never said it before," the boy moaned,
and in that spoken thought was the nearest thing
to comfort that he could conjure.
He stood in the library a long time, gradually
cooling, gradually nursing the bitterness that
grew up in the midst of conflicting impulses. The
look in his eyes changed from bewilderment to a
glassy cynicism, and he began to walk back and
He paced the long length of the room a dozen
times. Then, with a quickened stride, he passed
into the hall, crossed it, and entered the dining
room, the tip of his tongue caressing his lips.
On the buffet stood a decanter, a heavy affair
of finely executed glassworker s art. The dark
stuff in it extended halfway up the neck, and as
he reached for it Danny s lips parted. He lifted
the receptacle and clutched at a whisky glass that
stood on the same tray. He picked it up, looked
calculatingly at it, set it down, and picked up
The glass stopper of the bottle thudded on
the mahogany; his nervous hand held the tumbler
under its gurgling mouth. Half full, two-thirds,
three-quarters, to within a finger s breadth of
the top he filled it.
Then, setting the decanter down, he lifted the
glass to look through the amber at the morning
light; his breath quick, his eyes glittering, Danny
Lenox poised. A smile played about his eager
lips a smile that brightened, and lingered, and
faded and died.
The hand holding the glass trembled, then was
still; trembled again, so severely that it spilled
some of the liquor; came gradually down from its
upraised position, down below his mouth, below
his shoulder, and waveringly sought the buffet.
As the glass settled to the firm wood Danny s
shoulders slacked forward and his head drooped.
He turned slowly from the buffet, the aroma of
whisky strong in his dilated nostrils. After the
first faltering step he faced about, gazed at his
reflection in the mirror, and said aloud:
"And it s not been worth the candle!"
Savagery was in his step as he entered the
20 "_I CONQUERED"
hall, snatched up his hat, and strode to the door.
As the heavy portal swung shut behind the
hurrying boy it sighed again, as though hope
lessly. The future seemed hopeless for Danny.
He had gone out to face a powerful foe.
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST
FROM the upper four hundreds on Riverside
Drive to Broadway where the lower thirties
slash through is a long walk. Danny Lenox
walked it this June day. As he left the house
his stride was long and nervously eager, but
before he covered many blocks his gait moderated
and the going took hours.
Physical fatigue did not slow down his progress.
The demands upon his mental machinery retarded
his going. He needed time to think, to plan, to
bring order out of the chaos into which he had
been plunged. Danny had suddenly found that
many things in life are to be considered seriously.
An hour ago they could have been numbered on
his fingers; now they were legion. It was a newly
recognized fact, but one so suddenly obvious that
the tardiness of his realization became of porten
Through all the hurt and shame and rage the
great truth that his father had hammered home
became crystal clear. He had been merely a
waster, and a sharp bitterness was in him as he
strode along, hands deep in pockets.
The first flash of his resentment had given
birth to the childish desire to "show em," and
22 "_I CONQUERED"
as he crowded his brain against the host of
strange facts he found this impulse becoming
stronger, growing into a healthy determination
to adjust his standard of values so that he
could, even with this beginning, justify his
Oh, the will to do was strong in his heart,
but about it was a clammy, oppressive something.
He wondered at it then traced it back directly
to the place in his throat that cried out for
quenching. As he approached a familiar haunt
that urge became more insistent and the palms
of his hands commenced to sweat. He crossed
the street and made on down the other side. He
had wasted his ability to do, had let this desire
sap his will. He needed every jot of strength
now. He would begin at the bottom and call
back that frittered vitality. He shut his teeth
together and doggedly stuck his head forward just
The boy had no plan; there had not been time
to become so specific. His whole philosophy had
been stood on its head with bewildering sudden
ness. He knew, though, that the first thing
to do was to cut his environment, to get away,
off anywhere, to a place where he could build
anew. The idea of getting away associated it
self with one thing in his mind: means of trans
portation. So, when his eyes without conscious
motive stared at the poster advertising a rail
road system that crosses the continent, Danny
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 23
Lenox stopped and let the crowd surge past him.
A man behind the counter approached the
tall, broad-shouldered chap who fumbled in his
pockets and dumped out their contents. He
looked with a whimsical smile at the stuff pro
duced: handkerchiefs, pocket-knife, gold pencil,
tobacco pouch, watch, cigarette case, a couple of
hat checks, opened letters, and all through it
money money in bills and in coins.
The operation completed, Danny commenced
picking out the money. He tossed the crumpled
bills together in a pile and stacked the coins.
That done, he swept up the rest of his property,
crammed it into his coat pockets, and commenced
smoothing the bills.
The other man, meanwhile, stood and smiled.
"Cleaning up a bit?" he asked.
Danny raised his eyes.
"That s the idea," he said soberly. "To
clean up a bit."
The seriousness of his own voice actually
"How far will that take me over your line?"
he asked, indicating the money.
The man stared hard; then smiled.
"You mean you want that much worth of
"Yes, ticket and berth upper berth. Less
this." He took out a ten-dollar bill. "I ll eat
on the way," he explained gravely.
24 "I CONQUERED"
The other counted the bills, turning them over
with the eraser end of his pencil, then counted
the silver and made a note of the total.
"Which way by St. Louis or Chicago?"
he asked. "We can send you through either
Danny lifted a dollar from the stack on the
counter and nipped it in the air. Catching it,
he looked at the side which came up and said:
Again the clerk calculated, referring to time
tables and a map.
"Denver," he muttered, as though to himself.
Then to Danny : Out of Denver I can give you
the Union Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, or
"The middle course."
"All right D. and R.G."
Then more referring to maps and time-tables,
more figuring, more glances at the pile of money.
Let s see that will land you at at
as he ran his finger down the tabulation "at
Danny moved along the counter to the glass-
covered map, a new interest in his face.
"Where s that Colt, Colorado?" he asked,
leaning his elbows on the counter.
"See?" The other indicated with his pencil.
"You go south from Denver to Colorado
Springs; then on through Pueblo, through the
Royal Gorge here, and right in here " he put
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 25
the lead point down on the red line of the rail
road and Danny s head came close to his "is
where you get off."
The boy gazed lingeringly at the white dot
in the red line and then looked up to meet the
other s smile.
"Mountains and more mountains," he said
with no hint of lightness. "That s a long way
from this place."
He gazed out on to flowing Broadway with a
look somewhat akin to pleading, and heard the
man mutter: "Yes, beyond easy walking from
downtown, at least."
Danny straightened and sighed. That much
was settled. He was going to Colt, Colorado.
He looked back at the map again, possessed with
an uneasy foreboding.
"Well, when can I leave?" he asked, as he
commenced putting his property back into the
"You can scarcely catch the next train,"
said the clerk, glancing at the clock, "because
it leaves the Grand Central in nineteen min
"Yes, I can!" broke in Danny. "Get me a
ticket and I ll get there!" Then, as though to
himself, but still in the normal speaking tone:
"I m through putting things off."
Eighteen and three-quarters minutes later a
tall, young man trotted through the Grand
Central train shed to where his Pullman waited.
26 "_I CONQUERED"
The porter looked at the length of the ticket
Danny handed the conductor.
"Ain t y ll carryin nothin , boss?" he asked.
"Yes, George," Danny muttered as he passed
into the vestibule, "but nothing you can help
With the grinding of the car wheels under
him Danny s mind commenced going round and
round his knotty problem. His plan had called
for nothing more than a start. And now-
Behind him he was leaving everything of which
he was certain, sordid though it might be. He
was going into the unknown, ignorant of his own
capabilities, realizing only that he was weak.
He thought of those burned bridges, of the uncer
tainty that lay ahead, of the tumbling of the
old temple about his ears
And doubt came up from the ache in his throat,
from the call of his nerves. He had not had a
drink since early last evening. He needed
No! That was the last thing he needed.
He sat erect in his seat with the determination
and strove to fight down the demands which his
wasting had made so steely strong. He felt
for his cigarette case. It was empty, but the
tobacco pouch held a supply, and as he walked
toward the smoking compartment he dusted
some of the weed into a rice paper.
Danny pushed aside the curtain to enter, and
a fat man bumped him with a violent jolt.
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 27
"Oh, excuse me!" he begged, backing off.
"Sorry. I ll be back in a jiffy with more sub
Three others in the compartment made room
for Danny, who lighted his cigarette and drew
a great gasp of smoke into his lungs.
In a moment the fat man was back, his eyes
dancing. In his hand was a silver whisky flask.
"Now if you don t say this is the finest booze
ever turned out of a gin mill, I ll go plumb!" he
declared. "Drink, friend, drink!"
He handed the flask to one of the others.
"Here s to you!" the man saluted, raising the
flask high and then putting its neck to his mouth.
Danny s tongue went again to his lips; his
breath quickened and the light in his eyes became
a greedy glitter. He could hear the gurgle of
the liquid ; his own throat responded in movement
as he watched the swallowing. He squeezed his
cigarette until the thin paper burst and the
tobacco sifted out.
"Great!" declared the man with a sigh as he
lowered the flask. Great !
He smacked his lips and winked. "Ah! No
whisky s bad, but this s better n most of it!"
Then, extending the flask toward Danny, he
said: "Try it, brother; it s good for a soul."
But Danny, rising to his feet with a suddenness
that was almost a spring, strode past him to the
door. His face suddenly had become tight and
white and harried. He paused at the entry,
28 "__I CONQUERED"
holding the curtain aside, and turned to see the
other, flask still extended, staring at him in bewil
"I m not drinking, you know," said Danny
weakly, "not drinking."
Then he went out, and the fat man who had
produced the liquor said soberly:
"Not drinking, and havin a time staying off
it. But say ain t that some booze?"
Long disuse of the power to plan concretely,
to think seriously of serious facts, had left it
weak. Danny strove to route himself through
to that new life he knew was so necessary, but
he could not call back the ability of tense thinking
with a word or a wish. And while he tried for
that end the boy commenced to realize that
perhaps he had not so far to seek for his fresh
start. Perhaps it was not waiting for him in
Colt, Colorado. Perhaps it was right here in
his throat, in his nerves. Perhaps the creature
in him was not a thing to be cleared away before
he could begin to fight perhaps it was the
proper object at which to direct his whole attack.
Enforced idleness was an added handicap.
Physical activity would have made the beginning
much easier, for before he realized it Danny was
in the thick of battle. A system that had been
stimulated by poison in increasing proportion
to its years almost from boyhood began to make
unequivocal demands for the stuff that had held
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 29
it to high pitch. Tantalizingly at first, with the
thirsting throat and jumping muscles; then. with
thundering assertions that warped the vision
and numbed the intellect and toyed with the
will. He gave up trying to think ahead. His
entire mental force went into the grapple with
that desire. Where he had thought to find pos
sible distress in the land out yonder, it had come
to meet him and of a sort more fearful, more
tremendous, than any which he had been able
Through the rise of that fevered fighting the
words of his father rang constantly in Danny s
"He was right right, right!" the boy de
clared over and over. "It was brutal; but he
was right! I ve wasted, I ve gone the limit.
And he doesn t think I can come back!"
While faith would have been as a helping hand
stretched down to pull him upward, the denial
of it served as a stinging goad, driving him on.
A chord deep within him had been touched by
the raining blows from his father, and the vibra
tions of that chord became quicker and sharper
as the battle crescendoed. The unbelief had
stirred a retaliating determination.
It was this that sent a growl of defiance into
Danny s throat at sight of a whisky sign; it was
the cause of his cursing when, walking up and
down a station platform at a stop, he saw men
in the buffet car lift glasses to their lips and smile
30 "__I CONQUERED"
at one other. It was this that drew him away
from an unfinished meal in the diner when a
man across the table ordered liquor and Danny s
eyes ached for the sight of it, his nostrils begged
for the smell.
So on every hand came the suggestions that
made demands upon his resistance, that made
the weakness gnaw the harder at his will. But
he fought against it, on and on across a country,
out into the mountains, toward the end of his
The unfolding of the marvels of a continent s
vitals had a peculiar effect on Danny.
Before that trip he had held the vaguest notions
of the West, but with the realization of the
grandeur of it all he was torn between a glorified
inspiration and a suffocating sense of his own
He had known only cities, and cities are, by
comparison, such puny things. They froth and
ferment and clatter and clang and boast, and yet
they are merely flecks, despoiled spots, on an
expanse so vast that it seems utterly unconscious
of their presence. The boy realized this as the
big cities were left behind, as the stretches be
tween stations became longer, the towns more
flimsy, newer. A species of terror filled him as
he gazed moodily from his Pullman window out
across that panorama to the north. Why, he
could see as far as to the Canadian boundary, it
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 31
seemed! On and on, rising gently, ever flowing,
never ending, went the prairie. Here and there
a fence ; now a string of telephone poles marching
out sturdily, bravely, to reduce distance by count
less hours. There a house, alone, unshaded,
with a woman standing in the door watching
his speeding train. Yonder a man shacking along
on a rough little horse, head down, listless a
crawling jot under that endless sky.
Even his train, thing of steel and steam, was
such a paltry particle, screaming to a heaven
that heard not, driving at a distance that cared not.
Then the mountains!
Danny awoke in Denver, to step from his car
and look at noble Evans raising its craggy,
hoary head into the salmon pink of morning,
defiant, ignoring men who fussed and puttered
down there in its eternal shadow; at Long s Peak,
piercing the sky as though striving to be away
from humans; at Pike, shimmering proudly
through its sixty miles of crystal distance, taking
a heavy, giant delight in watching beings worry
their way through its hundred-mile dooryard.
Then along the foothills the train tore with
the might of which men are so proud; yet it only
crawled past those mountains.
Stock country now, more and more cattle in
sight. Blase, white-faced Herefords lifted their
heads momentarily toward the cars. They heeded
little more than did the mountains.
Then, to the right and into the ranges, twisting,
32 "_I CONQUERED"
turning, climbing, sliding througn the narrow
defiles at the grace of the towering heights which
so alive did they seem could have whiffed
out that thing, those lives, by a mere stirring
on their complacent bases.
And Danny commenced L o draw parallels.
Just as his life had been axdficial, so had his
environment. Manhattan and this ! Its com
plaining cars, its popping pavements, its echoing
buildings it had all seemed so big, so great, so
mighty! And yet it was merely a little mud
village, the work of a prattling child, as compared
with this country. The subway, backed by its
millions in bonds, planned by constructive genius,
executed by master minds, a thing to write into
the history of all time, was a mole-passage com
pared to this gorge! The Woolworth, labor of
years, girders mined on Superior, stones quarried
elsewhere, concrete, tiling, cables, woods, all
manner of fixtures contributed by continents;
donkey engines puffing, petulant whistles scream
ing, men of a dozen tongues crawling and worming
and dying for it; a nation standing agape at its
ivory and gold attainments! And what was it?
Put it down here and it would be lost in the rolling
of the prairie as it swelled upward to meet honest
No wonder Danny Lenox felt inconsequential.
And yet he sensed a friendly something in that
grandeur, an element which reached down for
him like a helping hand and offered to draw him
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 33
out of his cramped, mean little life and put him
up with stalwart men.
"If this rotten carcass of mine, with its dry
throat and fluttering hands, will only stick by me
I ll show em yet!" he declared, and held up one
of those hands to watch its uncertainty.
And in the midst of one of those bitter, griping
struggles to keep his vagrant mind from running
into vinous paths, the brakes clamped down and
the porter, superlatively polite, announced:
"This is Colt, sah."
A quick interest fired Danny. He hurried to
the platform, stood on the lowest step, and
watched the little clump of buildings swell to
natural size. He reached into his pocket, grasped
the few coins remaining there, and gave them to
the colored boy.
The train stopped with a jolt, and Danny
stepped off. The conductor, who had dropped
off from the first coach as it passed the station,
ran out of the depot, waved his hand, and the
grind of wheels commenced again.
As the last car passed, Danny Lenox stared at
it, and for many minutes his gaze followed its
departure. After it had disappeared around the
distant curve he retained a picture of the white-
clad servant, leaning forward and pouring some
liquid from a bottle.
The roar of the cars died to a murmur, a mut
tering, and was swallowed in the canon. The
sun beat down on the squat, green depot and
cinder platform, sending the quivering heat rays
back to distort the outlines of objects. Every
where was a white, blinding light.
From behind came a sound of waters, and
Danny turned about to gaze far down into a ragged
gorge where a river tumbled and protested through
the rocky way.
Beyond the stream was stretching mesa, quiet
and flat and smooth looking in the crystal dis
tance, dotted with pine, shimmering under the
For five minutes he stared almost stupidly at
that grand sweep of still country, failing to
comprehend the fact of arrival. Then he walked
to the end of the little station and gazed up at
A dozen buildings with false fronts, some
painted, some without pretense of such nicety,
faced one another across a thoroughfare four
times as wide as Broadway. Sleeping saddle
ponies stood, each with a hip slumped and nose
low to the yellow ground. A scattering of houses
with their clumps of outbuildings and fenced
areas straggled off behind the stores.
Scraggly, struggling pine stood here and there
among the rocks, but shade was scant.
Behind the station were acres of stock pens,
with high and unpainted fences. Desolation!
Danny felt a sickening, a revulsion. But lo!
his eyes, lifting blindly for hope, for comfort,
A YOUNG MAN GOES WEST 35
found the thing which raised him above the
depression of the rude little town.
A string of cliffs, ranging in color from the
bright pink of the nearest to the soft violet of
those which might be ten or a hundred miles
away, stretched in mighty columns, their varied
pigments telling of the magnificent distances
to which they reached. All were plastered up
against a sky so blue that it seemed thick, and
as though the color must soon begin to drip.
Glory! The majesty of the earth s ragged crust,
the exquisite harmony of that glorified gaudiness !
Danny pulled a great chestful of the rare air
into his lungs. He threw up his arms in a little
gesture that indicated an acceptance of things
as they were, and in his mind flickered the ques
"The beginning or the end?"
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN"
THEN he felt his gaze drawn away from
those vague, alluring distances. It was one
of those pulls which psychologists have failed
to explain with any great clarity; but every hu
man being recognizes them. Danny followed
He had not seen the figure squatting there on
his spurs at the shady end of the little depot, for
he had been looking off to the north. But as
he yielded to the urge he knew its source in
those other eyes.
The figure was that of a little man, and his
doubled-up position seemed to make his frame
even more diminutive. The huge white angora
chaps, the scarlet kerchief about his neck and
against the blue of his shirt, the immense spread
of his hat, his drooping gray mustache, all em
phasized his littleness.
Yet Danny saw none of those things. He
looked straight into the blue eyes squinting up
at him eyes deep and comprehensive, set in
a copper-colored face, surrounded by an intricate
design of wrinkles in the clear skin; eyes that had
looked at incalculably distant horizons for decades,
and had learned to look at men with that same
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 37
long-range gaze. A light was in those eyes
a warm, kindly, human light that attracted
and held and created an atmosphere of stability;
it seemed as though that light were tangible,
something to which a man could tie so
prompt is the flash from man to man that
makes for friendship and devotion; and to
Danny there came a sudden comfort. That
was why he did not notice the other things
about the little man. That was why he wanted
"Good morning," he said.
" Mornin ."
Then a pause, while their eyes still held one
After a moment Danny looked away. He
had a stabbing idea that the little man was read
ing him with that penetrating gaze. The look
was kindly, sincere, yet and perhaps because
of it the boy cringed.
The man stirred and spat.
"To be sure, things kind of quiet down when
th train quits this place," he remarked with a
"Yes, indeed. I I don t suppose much
happens here except trains."
Danny smiled feebly. He took his hat off
and wiped the brow on which beads of sweat
glistened against the pallor. The little man
still looked up, and as he watched Danny s weak,
uncertain movements the light in his eyes changed.
38 "_I CONQUERED"
The smile left them, but the kindliness did not
go; a concern came, and a tenderness.
Still, when he spoke his nasal voice was as it
had been before.
"Take it you just got in?"
"Yes just now.
Then another silence, while Danny hung his head
as he felt those searching eyes boring through him.
"Long trip this hot weather, ain t it?"
"Yes, very long."
Danny looked quickly at his interrogator then
"How did you know?"
"Didn t. Just guessed." He chuckled.
"Ever think how many men s been thought
wise just guessin ?"
But Danny caught the evasion. He looked
down at his clothes, wrinkled, but still crying
aloud of his East.
"I suppose," he muttered, "I do look different
And the association of ideas took him across
the stretches to Manhattan, to the life that was,
He caught his breath sharply. The call of his
throat was maddening!
The little man had risen and, with thumbs
hooked in his chap belt, stumped on his high
boot heels close to Danny. A curious expression
softened the lines of his face, making it seem
queerly out of harmony with his garb.
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 3 9
"You lookin for somebody?" he ventured,
and the nasal quality of his voice seemed to be
mellowed, seemed to invite, to compel confidence.
"Looking for somebody?"
Danny, only half consciously, repeated the
query. Then, throwing his head back and follow
ing that range of flat tops off to the north, he
muttered : Yes, looking for somebody look
ing for myself!"
The other shifted his chew, reached for his hat
brim, and pulled it lower.
"No baggage?" he asked. "To be sure, an
ain t you got no grip?"
Danny looked at him quickly again, and,
meeting the honest query in that face, seeing
the spark there which meant sympathy and
understanding qualities which human beings
can recognize anywhere and to which they respond
unhesitatingly he smiled wanly.
"Grip?" he asked, and paused. "Grip? Not
the sign of one ! That s what I m here for in
Colt, Colorado to get a fresh grip!" After a
moment he extended an indicating finger and
asked: "Is that all of Colt Colt, Colorado?"
The old man did not follow the pointing farther
than the uncertain finger. And when he answered
his eyes had changed again, changed to searching,
ferreting points that ran over every puff and seam
and hollow in young Danny s face. Then the
older man set his chin firmly, as though a grim
conclusion had been reached.
40 "__I CONQUERED"
"That s th total o Colt," he answered.
"It ain t exactly astoundin , is it?"
Danny shook his head slowly.
"Not exactly," he agreed. "Let s go up and
look it over."
An amused curiosity drove out some of the
misery that had been in his pallid countenance.
"Sure, come along an inspect our metropolis!"
invited the little man, and they struck off through
Danny s long, free stride made the other hustle,
and the contrast between them was great; the
one tall and broad and athletic of poise in spite
of the shoulders, which were not back to their
full degree of squareness; the other, short and
bowlegged and muscle-bound by years in the
saddle, taking two steps to his pacemaker s one.
They attracted attention as they neared the
store buildings. A man in riding garb came to
the door of a primitive clothing establishment,
looked, stepped back, and emerged once more.
A moment later two others joined him, and they
stared frankly at Danny and his companion.
A man on horseback swung out into the broad
street, and as he rode away from them turned in
his saddle to look at the pair. A woman ran
down the post-office steps and halted her hurried
progress for a lingering glance at Danny. The
boy noticed it all.
"I m attracting attention," he said to the
little man, and smiled as though embarrassed.
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 41
"Aw, these squashies ain t got no manners,"
the other apologized. "They set out in these
dog-gone hills an look down badger holes so much
that they git loco when somethin new comes
Then he stopped, for the tall stranger was not
beside him. He looked around. His companion
was standing still, lips parted, fingers working
slowly. He was gazing at the front of the Mon
From within came the sound of an upraised
voice. Then another in laughter. The swinging
doors opened, and a man lounged out. After
him, ever so faint, but insidiously strong and
compelling, came an odor!
For a moment, a decade, a generation time
does not matter when a man chokes back tempta
tion to save himself Danny stood in the yellow
street, under the white sunlight, making his feet
remain where they were. They would have
hurried him on, compelling him to follow those
fumes to their source, to push aside the flapping
doors and take his throat to the place where that
burning spot could be cooled.
In Colt, Colorado! It had been before him
all the way, and now he could not be quit of its
physical presence! But though his will wavered,
it held his feet where they were, because it was
stiffened by the dawning knowledge that his
battle had only commenced ; that the struggle
during the long journey across country had been
42 "__I CONQUERED"
only preliminary maneuvering, only the mobilizing
of his forces.
When he moved to face the little Westerner
his eyes were filmed. The other drew a hand
across his mouth calculatingly and jerked his
hat-brim still lower.
"As I was sayin ," he went on a bit awkwardly
as they resumed their walk, "these folks ain t
got much manners, but they re good hearted."
Danny did not hear. He was casting around
for more resources, more reserves to reinforce
his front in the battle that was raging.
He looked about quickly, a bit wildly, searching
for some object, some idea to engage his thoughts,
to divert his mind from that insistent calling.
His eyes spelled out the heralding of food stuffs.
The sun stood high. It was time. It was not
an excuse; it was a Godsend!
Let s eat, he said abruptly. I m starving.
"That s a sound idee," agreed the other, and
they turned toward the restaurant, a flat-roofed
building of rough lumber. A baby was playing
in the dirt before the door and a chained coyote
puppy watched them from the shelter of a corner.
On the threshold Danny stopped, confusion
possessing him He stammered a moment, tried
to smile, and then muttered:
"Guess I d better wait a little. It is n t neces
sary to eat right away, anyhow."
He stepped back from the doorway with its
smells of cooking food and the other followed him
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 43
quickly, blue eyes under brows that now drew
down in determination.
"Look here, boy," the man said, stepping close,
"you was crazy for chuck a minute ago, an now
you make a bad excuse not to eat. To be sure,
it ain t none of my business, but I m old enough
to be your daddy; I ain t afraid to ask you what s
wrong. Why don t you want to eat?"
The sincerity of it, the unalloyed interest that
precluded any hint of prying or sordid curiosity,
went home to Danny and he said simply :
"I m broke."
"You didn t need to tell me. I knowed it.
I ain t, though. You eat with me."
"I can t! I can t do that!"
"Expect to starve, I s pose?"
"No not exactly. That is," he hastened
to say, "not if I m worth my keep. I came out
here to to get busy and take care of myself.
I 11 strike a job of some sort anything, I don t
care what it is or where it takes me. When
I m ready to work, I 11 eat. I ought to get work
right away, oughtn t I?"
In his voice was a sudden pleading born of the
fear awakened by his realization of absolute
helplessness, as though he looked for assurance
to strengthen his feeble hopes, but hardly dared
expect it. The little man looked him over
gravely from the heels of his flat shoes to the
crown of his rakishly soft hat. He pushed his
Stetson far back on his gray hair.
44 " I CONQUERED"
"To be sure, and I guess you won t have to
look far for work," he said. "I ve been combin
this town dry for a hand all day. If you d like
to take a chance workin for me I d be mighty
glad to take you on right off. I m only waitin
to find a man can t go home till I do. Con
sider yourself hired!"
He turned on his heel and started off. But
Danny did not follow. He felt distrust; he
thought the kindness of the other was going too
far; he suspected charity.
"Come on!" the man snapped, turning to look
at the loitering Danny. "Have I got to rope
an drag you to grub?"
"But you see it s this way," the boy
stammered. "Do you really want me? Can I
do your work? How do you know I m worth
even a meal?"
A slow grin spread over the Westerner s
"Friend,* he drawled in his high, nasal tone,
"it s a pretty poor polecat of a man who ain t
worth a meal; an it s a pretty poor specimen
who goes hirin without makin up his mind
sufficient. They ain t many jobs in this country,
but just now they s fewer men. We ve got used
to bein careful pickers. I ve done my pickin .
Only half willingly the boy followed.
They walked through the restaurant, the old
man saluting the lone individual who presided
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 45
over the place, which was kitchen and dining
room in one.
"Hello, Jed," the proprietor cried, waving a
fork. "How s things?"
"Finer n frog s hair!" the other replied,
shoving open the broken screen door at the rear.
"This is where we abolute," he remarked,
indicating the dirty wash-basin, the soap which
needed a boiling out itself, and the discouraged,
Danny looked dubiously at the array. He
had never seen as bad, to say nothing of having
used such; but the man with him sloshed water
into the basin from a tin pail and said:
"You re next, son, you re next."
And Danny plunged his bared wrists into the
water. It was good, it was cool; and he forgot
the dirty receptacle in the satisfaction that came
with drenching his aching head and dashing the
cooling water over his throat. The other stood
and watched, his eyes busy, his face reflecting
the rapid workings of his mind.
They settled in hard-bottomed, uncertain-
legged chairs, and Jed whoever he might be,
Danny thought, as he remembered the name
gave their order to the man, who was, among
other things, waiter and cook.
"Make it two sirloins," he said; "one well
done an one " He lifted his eyebrows at
"Rare," the boy said.
4 6 _! CONQUERED"
"An some light bread an a pie," concluded
the employer- host.
Danny saw that the cook wore a scarf around
his neck and down his back, knotted in three
places. When he moved on the floor it was
evident that he wore riding boots. On his
wrists were the leather cuffs of the cowboy.
Danny smiled. A far cry, indeed, this res
taurant in Colt, Colorado, from his old haunts
along the dark thoroughfare that is misnamed a
lighted way! The other was talking: "We ll
leave soon s we re through an make it on up
th road to-night. It ll take us four days to
get to th ranch, probably, an we might s well
commence. Can you ride?"
Danny checked a short affirmative answer on
"I ve ridden considerably," he said. "You
people wouldn t call it riding, though. You ll
have to teach me."
"Well, that s a good beginnin . To be sure
it is. Them as has opinions is mighty hard to
teach cause opinions is like as not to be dead
He smeared butter on a piece of bread and
poked it into his mouth. Then:
I brought out my last hand I come with
him, I mean. Th sheriff brought him. His
saddle an bed s over to th stable. You can use
"Sheriff?" asked Danny. "Get into trouble?"
"I VE DONE MY PICKIN" 47
"Oh, a little. He s a good boy, mostly
except when he gets drinkin ."
Danny shoved his thumb down against the
tines of the steel fork he held until they bent
THE TROUBLE HUNTER
KNEE to knee, at a shacking trot, they rode
out into the glory of big places, two horses
before them bearing the light burden of a West
erner s bed.
"My name s Jed Avery," the little man broke
in when they w r ere clear of the town. " I m located
over on Red Mountain a hundred an thirty
miles from here. I run horses th VB stuff.
They call me Jed or Old VB ; mostly Jed now,
cause th fellers who used to ca 1 ] me Old VB has
got past talkin so you can hear em, or else has
moved out. Names don t matter, anyhow. It
ain t a big outfit, but I have a good time runnin
it. Top hands get thirty-five a month."
Danny felt that there was occasion for answer
of some sort. In those few words Avery had
given him as much information as he could need,
and had given it freely, not as though he expected
to open a way for the satisfaction of any curiosity.
He wanted to forget the past, to leave it entirely
behind him; did not want so much as a remnant
to cling to him in this new life. Still, he did not
deem it quite courteous to let the volunteered
information come to him and respond with
merely an acknowledgment.
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 49
He cleared his throat. "I m from Riverside
Drive, New York City," he said grimly. "Names
don t matter. I don t know how to do a thing
except waste time and strength. If you ll
give me a chance, I ll get to be a top hand."
An interval of silence followed.
"I never heard of th street you mention. I
know New York s on th other slope an consid
erable different from this here country. Gettin
to be a top hand s mostly in makin up your
mind just like gettin anywhere else."
Then more wordless travel. Behind them Colt
dwindled to a bright blotch. The road ran close
against the hills, which rose abruptly and in
scarred beauty. The way was ever upward,
and as they progressed more of the country
beyond the river spread out to their view, mesas
and mountains stretching away to infinite dis
tance, it seemed.
Even back of the sounds of their travel the
magnificent silence impressed itself. It was weird
to Danny Lenox, unlike anything his traffic-
hardened ears had ever experienced, and it made
him uneasy it, and the ache in his throat.
That ache seemed to be the last real thing left
about him, anyhow. Events had come with
such unreasonable rapidity in those last few days
that his harassed mind could not properly arrange
the impressions. Here he w^as, hired out to do
he knew not what, starting a journey that would
take him a hundred and thirty miles from a
5 o "_I CONQUERED"
place called Colt, in the state of Colorado, through
a country as unknown to him as the regions of
mythology, beside a man whose like he had never
seen before, traveling in a fashion that on his
native Manhattan had worn itself to disuse two
Out of the whimsical reverie he came with a
jolt. Following the twisting road, coming toward
them at good speed, was the last thing he would
have associated with this place an automobile.
He reined his horse out of the path, saw the full-
figured driver throw up his arm in salutation to
Jed, and heard Jed shout an answering greeting.
The driver looked keenly at Danny as he passed,
and touched his broad hat.
"Who was that?" the boy asked, as he again
fell in beside his companion.
"That s Bob Thorpe," the other explained.
"He s th biggest owner in this part of Colorado
mebby in th whole state. Cattle. S Bar S
mostly, but he owns a lot of brands."
"Can he get around through these mountains
in a car?"
"He seems to. An his daughter! My! To
be sure, she d drive that dog-gone bus right up
th side of that cliff! You ll see for yourself.
She ll be home fore long college East some-
The boy looked at him questioningly but said
nothing. College East home fore long -
Might it not form a link between this new and
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 51
that old a peculiar sort of link as peculiar
as this sudden, unwarranted interest in this
Through the long afternoon Danny eagerly
awaited the coming of more events, more distrac
tions. When they came such as informative
bursts from Jed or the passing of the automobile
he forgot for the brief passage of time the
throb in his throat, that wailing of the creature
in him. But when the two rode on at the sham
bling trot, with the silence and the immense
grandeur all about them, the demands of his
appetite were made anew, intensified perhaps
by a feeling of his own inconsequence, by the
knowledge that should he fail once in standing
off those assaults it would mean only another
beginning, and harder by far than this one he
Every hour of sober reflection, of sordid strug
gle, added to his estimate of the strength of that
self he must subdue. He was going away into
the waste places, and a sneaking fear of being
removed from the stuff that had kept him keyed
commenced to grow, adding to the fleshly wants.
If he should be whipped and a surrender be
forced? What then? He realized that that
doubting was cowardice. He had come out here
to have freedom, a new beginning, and now he
found himself begging for a way back should the
opposition be too great. It was sheer weakness!
Cautiously Jed Avery had watched Danny s
52 "_I CONQUERED"
face, and when he saw anxiety show there as
doubt rose, he broke into words:
"Yes, sir, Charley was sure a good boy, but
th booze got him."
He looked down at his horse s withers so he
could not see the start this assertion gave Danny.
"He didn t want to be bad, but it s so easy
to let go. To be sure, it is. Anyhow, Charley
never had a chance, never a look-in. He was
good hearted an meant well but he did n t
have th backbone."
And Danny found that a rage commenced to
rise within him, a rage which drove back those
queries that had made him weak.
Day waned. The sun slid down oehind the
string of cliffs which stretched on before them
at their left. Distances took on their purple
veils, a canopy of virgin silver spread above the
earth, and the stillness became more intense.
"Right on here a bit now we ll stop," Jed
said. "This s th Anchor Ranch. They re
hayin , an full up. We ll get somethin to eat,
though, an feed for th ponies. Then we ll sleep
on th ground. Ever do it?"
"Well, you ve got somethin comin , then.
With a sky for a roof a man gets close to whatever
he calls his God an to himself. Some fellers
out here never seem to see th point. Funny.
I been sleepin out, off an on, for longer than I
like to think about an they s a feelin about
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 53
it that don t come from nothin else in th world."
"You think it s a good thing, then, for a man
to get close to himself?"
"To be sure I do."
What if he s trying to get away from himself ?
Jed tugged at his mustache while the horses
took a dozen strides. Then he said:
"That ain t right. When a man thinks he
wants to get away from himself, that s th coyote
in him talkin . Then he wants to get closer n
ever; get down close an fight again that streak
what s come into him an got around his heart.
Wants to get down an fight like sin!"
He whispered the last words. Then, before
Danny could form an answer, he said, a trifle
"Open th gate. I ll ride on an turn th
They entered the inclosure and rode on toward
a clump of buildings a half-mile back from the
Off to their right ran a strip of flat, cleared land.
It was dotted with new haystacks, and beyond
them they could see waving grass that remained
to be cut. At the corral the two dismounted,
Danny stiffly and with necessary deliberation.
As they commenced unsaddling, a trio of hatless
men, bearing evidences of a strenuous day s labor,
came from the door of one of the log houses to
talk with Jed. That is, they came ostensibly
to talk with Jed; in reality, they came to look at
54 "I CONQUERED"
the Easterner wno fumbled awkwardly with his
Danny looked at them, one after the other,
then resumed his work. Soon a new voice came
to his ears, speaking to Avery. He noticed that
where the little man s greeting to the others had
been full-hearted and buoyant, it was now curt,
Curious, Danny looked up again looked up to
meet a leer from a pair of eyes that appeared
to be only half opened; green eyes, surrounded
by inflamed lids, under protruding brows that
boasted but little hair, above high, sunburned
cheek bones; eyes that reflected all the small
meanness that lived in the thin lips and short
chin. As he looked, the eyes leered more omi
nously. Then the man spoke :
"Long ways from home, ain t you?"
Although he looked directly at Danny, although
he put the question to him and to him alone,
the boy pretended to misunderstand chose to
do so because in the counter question he could
express a little of the quick contempt, the instinc
tive loathing that sprang up for this man who
needed not to speak to show his crude, unreason
ing, militant dislike for the stranger, and whose
words only gave vent to the spirit of the bully.
"Are you speaking to me?" Danny asked,
and the cool simplicity of his expression carried
its weight to those who stood waiting to hear
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 55
The other grinned, his mouth twisting at an
"Who else round here d be far from home?"
Danny turned to Jed.
"How far is it?" he asked.
"A hundred an ten," Jed answered, a swift
pleasure lighting his serious face.
Danny turned back to his questioner.
"I m a hundred and ten miles from home,"
he said with the same simplicity, and lifted the
saddle from his horse s back.
It was the sort of clash that mankind the
world over recognizes. No angry word was
spoken, no hostile movement made. But the
spirit behind it could not be misunderstood.
The man turned away with a forced laugh
which showed his confusion. He had been
worsted, he knew. The smiles of those who
watched and listened told him that. It stung
him to be so easily rebuffed, and his laugh boded
"Don t have anything to do with him," cau
tioned Jed as they threw their saddles under a
shed. "His name s Rhues, an he s a nasty,
snaky cuss. He ll make trouble every chance
he gets. Don t give him a chance!"
They went in to eat with the ranch hands. A
dozen men sat at one long table and bolted im
mense quantities of food.
The boiled beef, the thick, lumpy gravy, the
56 "_I CONQUERED"
discolored potatoes, the coarse biscuit were as
strange to Danny as was his environment. His
initiation back at Colt had not brought him
close to such crudity as this. He tasted gingerly,
and then condemned himself for being surprised
to find the food good.
"You re a fool!" he told himself. "This is
the real thing; you ve been dabbling in unre
alities so long that you ve lost sense of the virtue
of fundamentals. No frills here, but there s
He looked up and down at the low-bent faces,
and a new joy came to him. He was out among
men! Crude, genuine, real men! It was an
experience, new and refreshing.
But in the midst of his contemplation it was
as though fevered fingers clutched his throat.
He dropped his fork, lifted the heavy cup, and
drank the coffee it contained in scorching gulps.
Once more his big problem had pulled him
back, and he wrestled with it alone among
After the gorging the men pushed back their
chairs and yawned. A desultory conversation
waxed to lively banter. A match flared, and the
talk came through fumes of tobacco smoke.
"Anybody got th makin s?" asked Jed.
"Here," muttered Danny beside him, and
thrust pouch and papers into his hand.
Danny followed Jed in the cigarette rolling,
and they lighted from the same match with an
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 57
interchange of smiles that added another strand
to the bond between them.
"That s good tobacco," Jed pronounced, blow
ing out a whiff of smoke.
"Ought to be; it cost two dollars a pound."
Jed laughed queerly.
"Yes, it ought to," he agreed, "but we ve got
a tobacco out here they call Satin. Ten cents a
can. It tastes mighty good to us."
Danny sensed a gentle rebuke, but he somehow
knew that it was given in all kindliness, that it
was given for his own good.
"While I fight up one way," he thought, "I
must fight down another." And then aloud:
"We ll stock up with your tobacco. What s
liked by one ought to be good enough for
He let the sentence trail off.
Jed answered with: "Both."
And the spirit behind that word added more
strength to their uniting tie.
The day had been a hard one. Darkness
came quickly, and the workers straggled off
toward the bunk house. Tossing away the butt
of his cigarette, Jed proposed that they turn in.
"I m tired, and you ve got a right to be,"
They walked out into the cool of evening. A
light flared in the bunk house, and the sound
of voices raised high came to them.
"Like to look in?" Avery asked, and Danny
thought he would.
58 "_I CONQUERED"
Men were in all stages of undress. Some were
already in their beds; others, in scant attire,
stood in mid-floor and talked loudly. From one
to another passed Rhues. In his hand he held
a bottle, and to the lips of each man in turn he
placed the neck. He faced Jed and Danny as
they entered. At sight of the stranger a quick
hush fell. Rhues stood there, bottle in hand,
"Jed, you don t drink," he said in his drawling,
insinuating voice, "but mebby yer friend here
uld like a nightcap."
He advanced to Danny, bottle extended, an
evil smile on his face. Jed raised a hand as though
to interfere; then dropped it. His jaw settled
in grim resolution, his nostrils dilated, and his
eyes fixed themselves fast on Danny s face.
Oh, the wailing eagerness of those abused
nerves! The cracking of that tortured throat!
All the weariness of the day, of the week; all the
sagging of spirit under the assault of the demon
in him were concentrated now. A hot wave
swept his body. The fumes set the blood rushing
to his eyes, to his ears ; made him reel. His hand
wavered up, half daring to reach for the bottle,
and the strain of his drawn face dissolved in a
Why hold off? Why battle longer? Why
delay? Why? Why? Why?
Of a sudden his ears rang with memory of his
father s brittle voice in cold denunciation, and
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 59
the quick passing of that illusion left another
talking there, in nasal twang, carrying a great
"No, thanks," he said just above a whisper.
"I m not drinking."
He turned quickly and stepped out the door.
Through the confusion of sounds and ideas
he heard the rasping laughter of Rhues, and
the tone of it, the nasty, jeering note, did
much to clear his brain and bring him back to
Jed walked beside him and they crossed to
where their rolls of bedding had been dropped,
speaking no word. As they stooped to pick up
the stuff the older man s hand fell on the boy s
shoulder. His fingers squeezed, and then the
palm smote Danny between the shoulder blades,
soundly, confidently. Oh, that assurance! This
man understood. And he had faith in this wreck
of a youth that he had seen for the first time ten
Shaken, tormented though he was, weakened
by the sharp struggle of a moment ago, Danny
felt keenly and with something like pride that it
had been worth the candle. He knew, too, with
a feeling of comfort, that an explanation to Jed
would never be necessary.
Silently they spread the blankets and, with a
simple "Good night," crawled in between.
Danny had never before slept with his clothes
on when sober. He had never snuggled be-
60 "__I CONQUERED"
tween coarse blankets in the open. But somehow
it did not seem strange; it was all natural, as
though it should be so.
His mind went round and round, fighting away
the tingling odor that still clung in his nostrils,
trying to blot out the wondering looks on the
countenances of those others as they watched
his struggle to refuse the stuff his tormentor
held out to him.
He did not care about forgetting how Rhues s
laughter sounded. Somehow the feeling of loath
ing for the man for a time distracted his thought
from the pleading of his throat, augmented the
singing of that chord his father had set in motion,
bolstered his will to do, to conquer this thing!
But the effect was not enduring. On and on
through the narrow channels that the fevered
condition made went his thinking; forever and
forever it must be so the fighting, fighting,
fighting; the searching for petty distractions that
would make him forget for the moment !
Suddenly he saw that there were stars mil
lions upon countless millions of them dusted across
the dome of the pale heavens as carelessly as a
baker might dust silvered sugar over the icing of
a festal cake. Big stars and tiny stars and mere
little diffusive glows of light that might come
from a thousand worlds, clustering together out
there in infinite void. Blue stars and white
stars, orange stars, and stars that glowed red.
Stars that sent beams through incalculable space
THE TROUBLE HUNTER 61
and stars that swung low, that seemed almost
attainable. Stars that blinked sleepily and
stars that stared without wavering, purposeful,
attentive. Stars alone and lonely; stars in
bunches. Stars in rows and patterns, as though
put there with design.
Danny breathed deeply, as though the pure
air were stuffy and he needed more of it, for the
vagary of his wandering mind had carried him
back to the place where light points were arranged
by plan. He saw again the electric-light kitten
and the spool of thread, the mineral-water clock,
the cigarette sign with flowing border, the
Whisky again! He moved his throbbing head
from side to side.
"Is it a blank wall?" he asked quite calmly.
1 Shall I always come up against it ? Is there no
MORNING: a flickering in the east that
gives again to the black hold of night.
Another attempt, a longer glimmer. It recedes,
returns stronger; struggles, bursts from the pall
of darkness, and blots out the stars before it.
And after that first silver white come soft colors
shoots of violet, a wave of pink, then the golden
glory of a new day.
Jed Avery yawned loud and lingeringly, push
ing the blankets away from his chin with blind,
fumbling motions. He thrust both arms from
the covers and reached above his head, up and
up and up ! until he ended with a satisfied
groan. He sat erect, opening and shutting his
mouth, rubbed his eyes and stopped a motion
Danny Lenox slept with lips parted. His
brown hair the hair that wanted to curl so
badly was well down over the brow, and the
skin beneath those locks was damp. One hand
rested on the tarpaulin covering of the bed, the
fingers in continual motion.
"Poor kid!" Jed muttered under his breath.
"Poor son of a gun! He s in a jack-pot, all
right, an it 11 take all any man ever had to pull
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 65.
1 Mornin , sonny!" he cried as Danny opened
his eyes and raised his head with a start.
For a moment the boy stared at him, evidencing
no recognition. Then he smiled and sat up.
"How are you, Mr. Avery?"
"Well," the other began grimly, looking straight
before him, "Mr. Avery s in a bad way. He
died about thirty year ago."
Danny looked at him with a grin.
"But Old Jed Old VB," he went on, "he s
alive an happy. Fancy wrappin s is for boxes
of candy an playin cards," he explained. "They
ain t necessary to men."
I see all right, Jed !
Danny stared about him at the freshness of the
"Wouldn t it be slick," Jed wanted to know,
"if we was all fixed like th feller who makes th
days? If yesterday s was a bad job he can start
right in on this one an make it a winner! Now,
if this day turns out bad he can forget it an
begin to-morrow at sun-up to try th job all over
"Yes, it would be fine to have more chances,"
Jed sat silent a moment.
"Mebby so, an mebby no," he finally recanted.
"It would be slick an easy, all right; but mebby
we d get shiftless. Mebby we d keep puttin
off tryin hard until next time. As t ?.s, we have
to make every chance our only one, an work
64 "_I CONQUERED"
ourselves to th limit. Never let a chance get
away! Throw it an tie it an hang on!"
"In other words, think it s now or never?"
Jed reached for a boot and declared solemnly:
"It s th only thing that keeps us onery human
bein s on our feet an movin along!"
Breakfast was a brief affair, brief but enthu
siastic. The gastronomic feats performed at that
table were things at which to marvel, and Danny
divided his thoughts between wonder at them
and recalling the events of the night before.
Only once did he catch Rhues s eyes, and then
the leer which came from them whipped a flush
high in his cheeks.
Jed and Danny rode out into the morning side
by side, smoking some of the boy s tobacco.
As the sun mounted and the breeze did not rise,
the heat became too intense for a coat, and Danny
stripped his off and tied it behind the saddle.
Jed looked at the pink silk shirt a long time.
"To be sure an that s a fine piece of goods,"
he finally declared.
Danny glanced down at the gorgeous garment
with a mingled feeling of amusement and guilt.
But he merely said:
"I thought so, too, when I bought it."
And even that little tendency toward foppish
ness which has been handed down to men from
those ancestors who paraded in their finest skins
and paints before the home of stalwart cave
women seemed to draw the two closer to each other.
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 65
As though he could sense the young chap s
bewilderment and wonder at the life about him,
Jed related much that pertained to his own work.
"Yes, I raise some horses," he concluded, "but
I sell a lot of wild ones, too. It s fun chasin em,
and it gets to be a habit with a feller. I like it
an can make a livin at it, so why should I go
into cattle? Those horses are out there in th
hills, runnin wild, like some folks, an doin
nobody no good. I catch em an halter-break
em an they go to th river an get to be of use
"Is n t it a job to catch them?" Danny asked.
"Well, I guess so!" Jed s eyes sparkled.
"Some of em are wiser than a bad man.
Why, up in our country s a stallion that ain t
never had a rope on him. Th Captain we ve
got to call him. He s th wildest an wisest
critter, horse or human, you ever see. Eight
years old, an all his life he s been chased an
never touched. He s big not so big in weight ;
big like this here man Napoleon, I mean. He
rules th range. He has th best mares on th
mountain in his bunch, an he handles em like
a king. We ve tossed down our whole hand
time an again, but he always beats us out.
We re no nearer catchin him to-day than we
was when he run a yearlin ."
The little man s voice rose shrilly and his eyes
flashed until Danny, gazing on him, caught some
of his fever and felt it run to the ends of his body.
66 "_I CONQUERED"
"Oh, but that s a horse ! " Jed went on. " Why,
just to see him standin up on the sky line, head
up, tail arched-like, ready to run, not scared,
just darin us to come get him well, it s worth
a hard ride. There s somethin about th Cap
tain that keeps us from hatin him. By all
natural rights somebody ought to shoot a stallion
that ll run wild so long an drive off bunches of
gentle mares an make em crazy wild. But
no. Nobody on Red Mountain or nobody who
ever chased th Captain has wanted to harm
him; yet I ve heard men swear until it would
make your hair curl when they was runnin him!
He s that kind. He gets to somethin that s in
real men that makes em light headed. I guess
it s his strength. He s bigger n tricks, that
horse. He s learned all about traps an such,
an th way men generally catch wild horses don t
bother him at all. Lordy, boy, but th Captain s
somethin to set up nights an talk about!"
His voice dropped on that declaration, almost
"Well, he s so wise and strong that he ll just
keep right on running free; is that the idea?"
Jed gnawed off a fresh chew and repocketed
the plug, shifted in his saddle, and shook his
"Nope, I guess not," he said gravely. "I
don t reckon so, because it ain t natural; it ain t
th way things is done in this world. Did you
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 67
ever stop to think that of all th strong things us
men has knowed about somethin has always
turned up to be a little bit stronger? We ve
been all th time pattin ourselves on th back
an sayin , There, we ve gone an done it; that ll
last forever! an then watchin a wind or a rain
carry off what we ve thought was so strong.
Either that, I say, or else we ve been fallin down
on our knees an prayin for help to stop somethin
new an powerful that s showed up. An when
prayin did n t do no good up pops somebody
with an idea that th Lord wants us folks to carry
th heavy end of th load in such matters, an gets
busy workin . An his job ends up by makin
somethin so strong that it satisfied all them
prayers folks bein that unparticular that they
don t mind where th answer comes from so long
as it comes an they gets th benefits!
"That s th way it is all th time. We wake
up in th mornin an see somethin so discour-
agin that we want to crawl back to bed an quit
tryin ; then we stop to think that nothin has
ever been so great or so strong that it kept right
on havin its own way all th time; an we get
our sand up an pitch in, an pretty soon we re
"All we need is th sand to tackle big jobs;
just bein sure that they s some way of doin
or preventin an makin a reg lar hunt for that
one thing. So t is with th Captain. He s
fooled us a long time now, but some day a man 11
68 "_I CONQUERED"
come along who s wiser than th Captain, an
he ll get caught.
"Nothin strange about it. Just th workin
out of things. Course, it ll all depend on th
man. Mebby some of us on th mountain has
th brains; mebby some others has th sand, but
th combination ain t been struck yet. We
ain t men enough. Th feller who catches that
horse has got to be all man, just like th feller
who beats out any thin else that s hard; got to
be man all th way through. If he s only part
man an tackles th job he s likely to get tromped
on; if he s all man, he ll do th ridin ."
Jed stopped talking and gazed dreamily at
the far horizon; dreamily, but with an eye which
moved a trifle now and then to take into its range
the young chap who rode beside him. Danny s
head was down, facing the dust which rose from
the feet of the horses ahead. The biting particles
irritated the membrane of his throat, but for the
moment he did not heed. "Am I a man all
the way through?" he kept asking himself. "All
the way through?"
And then his nerves stung him vicious y,
shrieking for the stimulant which had fed them
so long and so well. His aching muscles pleaded
for it; his heart, miserable and lonely, missed the
close, reckless friendships of those days so shortly
removed, in spite of his realization of what those
relations had meant ; he yearned for the warming,
heedless thrills; his eyes ached and called out for
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 69
just the one draft that would make them alert,
From every joint in his body came the begging !
But that chord down in his heart still vibrated;
his father s arraignment was in his ears, its truth
ringing clearly. The incentive to forge ahead,
to stop the wasting, grew bigger, and his will
stood stanch in spite of the fact that his spinning
brain played such tricks as making the click of
pebbles sound like the clink of ice in glasses!
Then, too, there was Jed, the big-hearted,
beside him. And Jed was saying, after a long
silence, as though he still thought of his theme:
Yes, sir, us men can do any old thing if we only
think so! Nothin has ever been too much for
us; nothin ever will if we only keep on thinkin
as men ought to think an respectin ourselves."
Thus they traveled, side by side, the one
fighting, the other uttering his homely truths and
watching, always watching, noting effects, detect
ing temptations when the strain across the worried
brow and about the tight mouth approached the
breaking point. With keen intuition he went
down into the young fellow and found the vibrat
ing chord, the one that had been set humming
by scorn and distrust. But instead of abusing
it, instead of goading it on, Jed nursed it, fed it,
strengthening the chord itself with his philosophy
and his optimism.
They went on down Ant Creek, past the ranches
which spread across the narrow valley. Again
70 "_I CONQUERED"
they slept under the open skies, and Danny once
more marveled at the stars.
That second morning was agony, but Jed knew
"You re sore an stiff," he said, "but keepin
at a thing when it hurts is what counts, is what
gets a feller well an that applies to more things
than saddle sores, too."
He said the last as though aside, but the point
At the mouth of the creek, where it flows into
Clear River, they swung to the west and went
downstream. Danny s condition became only
semi-conscious. His head hung, his eyes were
but half opened. Living resolved itself into three
things. First and second: the thundering de
mands and the stubborn resistance of his will.
When Jed spoke and roused him the remaining
element come to the fore: his physical suffering.
That agony became more and more acute as the
miles passed, but in spite of its sharpness it
required the influence of his companion s voice
to awaken him to its reality.
Always, in a little back chamber of his mind,
was a bit of glowing warmth his newly born
love for the man who rode beside him.
It was night when they reached the ranch.
We re arrived, sonny ! This is home ! cried Jed,
slapping Danny on the shoulder. Our home.
The boy mastered his senses with an effort.
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 71
When he dismounted he slumped to one knee
and Jed had to help him stand erect.
Danny remembered nothing of the bed going,
nor could he tell how long the little, gray-haired
man stood over him, muttering now and then,
rubbing his palms together; nor of how, when
he turned toward the candle on the table, burning
steadily and brightly there in the night like a
young Crusader fighting back the shadows into the
veriest corner of the room, his eyes were misted.
It was a strange awakening, that w T hich followed.
Danny felt as though he had slept through a
whole phase of his existence. At first he was not
conscious of his surroundings, did not try to
remember where he was or what had gone before.
He lay on his back, mantled in a strange peace,
wonderfully content. Torture seemed to have left
him, bodily torments had fled. His heart pumped
slowly ; a vague, pleasing weakness was in his bones.
It was rest rest after achievement, the achieve
ment of stability, the arrival at a goal.
Then, breaking into full consciousness, his
nostrils detected odors. He sniffed slightly,
scarcely knowing that he did so. Cooking! It
was unlike other smells from places of cookery
that he had known; it was attractive, compelling.
All that had happened since his departure
from Colt came back to him with his first move
ment. His body was a center of misery, as
though it were shot full of needles, as though it
had been stretched on a rack, then blistered.
72 "_I CONQUERED"
Dressing was accomplished to the accompaniment
of many grunts and quick intakings of breath.
When he tried to walk he found that the process
was necessarily slow slower than it had ever been
before. Setting each foot before the other gingerly,
as if in experiment, he walked across the tiny room
toward the larger apartment of the cabin.
"Mornin !" cried Jed, closing the oven door
with a gentleness that required the service of
both hands. "I allowed you d be up about now.
Just step outside an wash an it ll be about
ready. Can you eat? Old VB sure can build a
breakfast, an he s never done better than this."
"By the smell, I judge so," said Danny.
The warm breath of baking biscuits came to
him from the oven. A sputtering gurgle on the
stove told that something fried. The aroma of
coffee was in the air, too, and Jed lifted eggs
from a battered pail to drop them into a steaming
kettle. The table, its plain top scrubbed to
whiteness, w r as set for two, and the sunlight that
streamed through the window seemed to be all
caught and concentrated in a great glass jar of
honey that served as a centerpiece.
Danny s eyes and nostrils and ears took it all
in as he moved toward the outer doorway. When
he gained it he paused, a hand on the low lintel,
and looked out upon his world.
Away to the south stretched the gulch, rolling
of bottom, covered with the gray-green sage.
Over east rose the stern wall, scarred and split,
JED PHILOSOPHIZES 73
with cedars clinging in the interstices, their forms
dark green against the saffron of the rocks. Up
above, towering into the unstained sky of morn
ing, a rounded, fluted peak, like the crowning
achievement of some vast cathedral.
The sun was just in sight above the cliff, but
Danny knew that day was aging, and felt, with
his peace, a sudden sharp affection for the old
man who, with an indulgence that was close to
motherly, had let him sleep. It made him feel
young and incompetent, yet it was good, com
forting like the peace of that great stillness
Except for the soft sounds from the stove,
there was no break. Above, on the ridges, a
breeze might be blowing; but not an intimation
of it down here. Just quiet silvery and holy.
The sun shoved itself clear of the screening
trees. A jack rabbit, startled by nothing at all,
sprang from its crouching under a brush shelter
and made off across the gulch with the jerky
lightness of a stone skipping on water. As he
bobbed the grass and bushes dewdrops flew from
them, catching sunbeams as they hurtled out
to their death, for one instant of wondrous glory
flashing like gems.
Danny Lenox, late of New York, drew a deep,
quivering breath and leaned his head against
the crude doorway. He was sore and weak and
felt almost hysterical, but perhaps this was only
because he was so happy!
AMBITION Is BORN
A ND then began Danny s apprenticeship.
^~*> Jed, the wise, did not delay activity. He
commenced with the boy as soon as breakfast
had been eaten and the dishes washed.
That first day they shod a horse, Danny doing
nothing really, but taking orders from Jed as
though the weight of a vast undertaking rested
on his shoulders.
The next day they mended fences from early
morning until evening.
Gradually the realization came to Danny that
he was doing something, that he was filling a
legitimate place small, surely: nevertheless he
was being of use, he was creating. A pleasing
sensation! One of the few truly wholesome
delights he had ever experienced. Danny thought
about it with almost childish happiness; then,
letting his mind return again to the established
rut, he was surprised to know that mere thinking
about his simple, homely duties had stilled for
the time it endured the restless creature within
The boy s bodily hurts righted themselves.
Long hours of sleep did more than anything else
to speed recovery. Those first two nights he
AMBITION IS BORN 75
was between covers before darkness came to the
gulch, and Jed let him sleep until the sun was
On the third evening they sat outside, Danny
watching Jed put a new half-sole on a cast-off
"They re your size," the old man said, "an
you ll have to wear boots, to be sure. Them
things you got on ain t what I d call exactly
fitted to ridin a horse."
Danny looked down at his modish Oxfords and
smiled. Then he glanced up at the man beside
him, who hammered and cut and grunted while
he worked as though his very immortality de
pended on getting those boots ready for his new
hand to wear.
Oh, the boy from the city could not then
appreciate the big feeling of man for mankind
which prompted such humble labor. It was a
labor of love, the mere mending of that stiff old
boot! In it Jed Avery found the encompassing
happiness which comes to those who understand,
happiness of the same sort he had felt back there
at Colt when he saw that there was a human
being who needed help and that it was in his
power to give him that help. And the peace this
happiness engendered created an atmosphere
which soothed and made warm the heart of the
boy, though he did not know why.
"Guess we d better move inside an get a
lighv," Jed muttered finally. "I ll shut the
76 "_I CONQUERED"
corral gate. You light th candle, will you?
It s on th shelf over th table stickin in a
Danny watched him go away into the dusk
and heard the creak of the big gate swinging shut
before he stepped into the house and groped his
way along for the shelf. He found it after a
moment and fumbled along for the candle Jed
had said was there. His fingers closed on some
thing hard and cold and cylindrical. He slid
his fingers upward; then staggered back with a
"What s wrong?" asked Jed, coming into the
Danny did not answer him, so the old man
stepped forward toward the shelf. In a moment
a match flared; the cold wick of the candle took
the flame, warmed, sent it higher, and a glow
filled the room.
The boy looked out from eyes that were dark
and wide and filled with the old horror. The
hand held near his lips shook, and he turned on
Jed a look that pleaded, then gazed back at the
The candle was stuck in the neck of a whisky
Danny opened his lips to speak, but the words
would not come. That terror was back again,
shattering his sense of peace, melting the words
in his throat with its heat.
Jed moved near to him.
AMBITION IS BORN 77
"It s a bright light for such a little candle,"
he said slowly, and a stout assurance was in his
But I I touched the bottle in the dark !
Danny s voice was high and strained, and the
words, when finally they did come, tripped over
one another in nervous haste. His knees were
weak under him. Such was the strength of the
tentacles which reached up to stay his struggles
and to drag him back into the depths from which
he willed to rise. Such was the weakness of the
nervous system on which the strain of the ordeal
Jed put a hand on the boy s shoulder and gazed
into the drawn face.
"It s all right, sonny," he said softly, his voice
modulating from twang to tenderness in the
manner it had. "Most men touches it in th
dark. But don t you see what this bottle s for?
Don t you see that candle? Burnin away there,
corkin up th bottle, givin us light so we can
Then the other hand went up to the boy s
other shoulder, and the little old rancher shook
young Danny Lenox gently, as though to joggle
him back to himself.
"I know, sonny," he said softly. "I know "
Then he turned away quickly and smote his
palms together with a sharp crack.
"Now get to bed. I ll finish these here boots
to-night and in th mornin we ride. If you re
78 "__I CONQUERED"
goin to get to be a top hand, we ve got to quit
foolin around home an get to learn th country.
They s a lot of colts we got to brand an a bunch
of wild ones to gather. It means work lots of
it for you an me!"
He set to work, busily thumping on the boot.
In the morning, Danny was subdued, subdued
and shaking. The spontaneity that had char
acterized his first days on the ranch had departed.
He was still eager for activity, but not for the
sake of the new experiences in themselves. That
gnawing was again in his throat, tearing his
flesh, it seemed, and to still the trembling of his
hand it was necessary for him to clutch the
saddle horn and keep his fingers clamped tightly
about it as they rode along.
They climbed out of the gulch, horses picking
their way up an almost impossible trail, and on a
high ridge, where country rolled and tossed about
them for immeasurable distances, Jed stopped
and pointed out the directions to his companion.
Thirty miles to the south was Clear River
with its string of ranches, and the town of Ranger,
their post office. Twenty miles to the southeast
was the S Bar S Ranch, the center of the coun
try s cattle activity, and over west, on Sand
Creek, a dozen miles ride across the hills and
double that distance by road, was another scatter
ing of ranches where Dick Worth, deputy sheriff
for that end of Clear River Coujlty, lived.
AMBITION IS BORN 79
"An to th north of us," continued Jed, with
a sweep of his hand, "they s nothin but hills -
clean to Wyoming! We re on th outskirts of
settlements. South of th river it s all ranches,
but north nothin . Couple of summer camps
but no ranches. It s a great get-away country,
The riding was easy that day, and in spite
of his stiffness Danny wished it were harder,
because the turmoil kept up within him, and
even the unbroken talk of Jed, giving him an
intelligent, interesting idea of the country, could
not crowd out his disquieting thoughts.
But it was easier the next day, and Danny took
a deep interest in the hunt for a band of mares
with colts that should be branded. Jed s low,
warning "H-s-s-t! There they are!" set his
heart pounding wildly, and he listened eagerly
to the directions the old man gave him; then he
waited in high excitement while Jed circled and
got behind the bunch.
The horses came toward him, and Danny, at
Jed s shout, commenced to ride for the ranch.
It was a new, an odd, an interesting game. The
horses came fast and faster. Now and then to
his ears floated Jed s repeated cry: "Keep
goin ! Keep ahead!" And he spurred on, won
dering at every jump how his horse could possibly
keep his feet longer in that awful footing.
But he had faith in the stout little beast he
rode, and his spirit was of the sort that would
8o "_I CONQUERED"
not question when a man as skilled in the game
as was Jed urged him along.
The mares with their colts pressed closely, but
Danny kept going, kept urging speed. Straight
on for the ranch he headed, and when they reached
the level bottom of the gulch the race waxed
"Into th round corral!" cried Jed. "Keep
goin ! You re doin fine!"
And into the round corral Danny headed his
mount, while the nose of the lead mare reached
out at his pony s flank.
The gate swung shut ; the mares trotted around
the inclosure, worried, for there their offspring
had been taken from them before. The coits
hung close to their mothers, snorting and rolling
their wide eyes, while the saddle horses stood
with legs apart, getting their wind.
Danny s eyes sparkled.
"That s sport!" he declared. "But, say, will
these horses always follow a rider that way?"
Jed loosed his cinch before he answered:
"Horses is like some men. As long as they re
bein pushed from behind an they s somebody
goin ahead of em, they 11 follow follow right
through high water! But once let em get past
th rider who s supposed to be holdin em up
why, then they s no handlin em at all. They
scatter an go their own way, remainin free.
"As I said, they re like men. To be sure,
lots of men has got to give that what s leadin
AMBITION IS BORN 81
em such a run that they beat it to death an get
a chance to go free!"
Danny rubbed his horse s drenched withers
and agreed with a nod as Jed walked over to the
gate and fumbled with the fastening.
"Say," he said, turning round, "I like th way
Danny looked up quickly, pleased.
"I m glad," he said, but in the simple assertion
was a great self-pride.
"Most fellers strange in th country wouldn t
fancy takin that kind of a bust down off a point.
No, sir. Not such a ride for us old heads, but
for a greenhorn - Well, I guess you ll get to be
a top hand some day, all right!"
And the influence which more than all else
was to help Danny become a top hand, which
was to set up in his heart the great ambition,
which was to hold itself up as a blazing ideal,
came early in his novitiate as a horse hunter
came in a fitting setting, on a day richly golden,
when the air seemed filled with a haze of holy
incense, holy with the holiness of beauty. It
was one of those mountain days when the immen
sity of nature becomes so obvious and so potent
that even the beasts leave off their hunting or
their grazing to gaze into wondrous distances.
The sage is green and brash in the near sunlight,
soft and purple out yonder; the hills sharp and
hard and detailed under the faultless sky for
unthinkable miles about, then soft and vague,
82 "_I CONQUERED"
melting in color and line, rolling, reaching, tossing
in a repetition of ranges until eyes ache in follow
ing them and men are weak about their middles
from the feeling of vastnesses to which measure
ments by figures are profane.
Jed and Danny searched for horses along two
parallel ridges. Now and then they saw each
other, but for the most part it had been a day
of solitary riding.
Late afternoon arrived, and Danny had about
abandoned hope of success. He was considering
the advisability of mounting the ridge above
the gulch into which he had ridden and locating
Jed, though loath to leave the solitudes.
His pony picked them out and stopped before
Danny s eyes registered the sight. The boy
searched quickly, and over against a clump of
cedars, halfway up the rise, he saw horses.
"No, that s not they," he muttered. "Jed said
there were two white mares among them. Not
His pony started under him, gave a sharp little
shudder, then moved a step backward and stood
still, a barely perceptible tremor shaking his limbs.
Then a sound new and strange came to Danny.
He did not know its origin, but it contained a
quality that sent a thrill pulsing from his heart.
Shrill it was, but not sharply cut, wavering but
not breaking; alarm, warning, concern, caution
the whistle of a stallion! Then silence, while the
mares stood rigid and the saddle horse held his
AMBITION IS BORN 83
Again it came, and a quick chill struck down
Danny s spine. His searching eyes encountered
the source. There, halfway between the mares
and the crown of the ridge he stood, out on a
little rim-rock that made a fitting pedestal, alert,
defiant, feet firmly planted, with the poise of a
Even across the distance his coat showed the
glossiness seen only on fine, short hair; his chest,
turned halfway toward the rider, was splendid in
breadth and depth, indicating superb strength,
endurance, high courage. Danny looked with a
surge of appreciation at the arch of the neck,
regal in its slim strength, at the fine, straight
limbs, clean as a dancing girl s; at the long,
lithe barrel with its fine symmetry.
A wandering breath of breeze came up the
gulch, fluttering the wealth of tail, lifting the
heavy mane and forelock. The horse raised a
front foot and smote the ledge on which he stood
as though wrath rose that a mere man should
ride into his presence, and he would demand
departure or homage from Danny Lenox. He
shook his noble head impatiently, to clear his
eyes of the hair that blew about them. And
once more came the whistle.
The mares stirred. One, a bright buckskin,
trotted up the rise a dozen yards, and stopped
to turn and look. The others moved slowly,
eyes and ears for Danny.
Again the whistle; a clatter of loosened stones
84 -I CONQUERED"
as the black leader bounded up the hillside; and
the bunch was away in his wake.
"The Captain!" Danny breathed, and then,
in a cry which echoed down the gulch - The
He was scarcely conscious of his movements,
but his quirt fell, his spurs raked the sides of his
pony, and the sturdy little animal, young and
not yet fully developed, doing his best in making
up the ridge, labored effectively, perhaps drawn
on by that same raw desire which went straight
to the roots of Danny s spirit and came back to
set the fires glowing in his eyes.
The boy rode far forward in his saddle, his gaze
on the plunging band that scattered stones and
dirt as they strove for the top. But he was
many lengths behind when the last mare disap
peared over the rim. He fanned his pony again,
and the beast grunted in his struggles for in
creased speed in the climbing, lunging forward
with mighty efforts which netted so little ground.
As he toiled up the last yards Danny saw the
Captain again, standing there against the sky,
watching, waiting, mane and tail blowing about
him. His strong, full, ever delicate body quivered
with the singing spirit of confidence within him
and communicated itself to the weakling pursuer.
Just a glimpse of the man was all that the black
horse wanted, then he was off.
As Danny s horse caught the first stride in the
run down the ridge he saw the Captain stretch
AMBITION IS BORN 85
that fine nose out to the flank of a lagging mare,
and saw the animal throw her head about in
pain as the strong teeth nipped her flesh, com
manding more speed.
Danny Lenox was mad ! He pulled off his hat
and beat his pony s withers with it. He cried aloud
the Captain s name. He went on and on, dropping
far down on his horse s side as they brushed under
the cedars, settling firmly to the seat when the
animal leaped over rocks. His shirt was open at
the neck, and his throat was chilled with the swift
rush of air, while hot blood swirled close to the
skin. His eyes glowed with the fire set there by
this new fascination, the love of beautiful strength ;
and through his body sang the will to conquer !
It was an unfair race. Danny and his light
young horse had no chance. Off and away drew
the stallion and his bunch, without effort after that
first crazy break down the ridge. The last Danny
saw of him was with head turned backward, nose
lifted, as though he breathed disdainful defiance
at the man who would come in his wake with the
thirst for possession high within him!
And so the boy pulled up, dropped off, and let
his breathing pony rest. His legs were uncertain
under him, and he knew that his pulses raced.
For many minutes he strove to analyze his emo
tion but could not.
Jed slid off the next ridge and came up at a
trot. His face was radiant. "Well, he got you,
did n t he?" He laughed aloud.
86 "_I CONQUERED"
"I thought he would, all along; and I knowed he
had you when I see you break up over th ridge.
You ve got th fever now, like a lot of th rest of
us ! Mebby you 11 chase horses here for years, but
you 11 always have an eye out for just one thing
th Captain. You won t be satisfied until you ve
got him like all of us; not satisfied until we ve
done th biggest thing there is in sight to do."
Then, as though parenthetically: "An when
we ve done that we ve only h isted ourselves up
to where we can see that they s a hunderd times
as much to do."
"Gad, but he goes right into a fellow s heart!"
breathed Danny, looking into the sunset. "I
did n t know I was following him, Jed, until the
pony here commenced to tire."
He laughed apologetically, as though confessing
a foolishness, but his face was glowing with a new
light. A fresh incentive had come to him with
this awakening admiration, inciting him to
emulation. The spirit of the stallion stirred in
him again that vibrant chord which had been
urging him to fight on, not to give up.
His ambition to overcome his weakness began
to take quick, definite direction. Added to the
effort of overcoming his vices would henceforth
be the endeavor to achieve, to compass some
worthy object. This was his aim: to be a leader
to whom men would turn for inspiration; to be
unconquerable among men, as the Captain was
unconquerable among his kind.
AMBITION IS BORN &,
As the ideal took shape, springing full-born
from his excitement, Danny Lenox felt lifted
above himself, felt stronger than human strength,
felt as though he were forever beyond human
When they had ridden twenty minutes in
silence Jed broke out: "Sonny, I don t want
to act like n old woman, but I guess I m gettin
childish! I ve knowed you less than a month.
I don t even know who you was when you come.
We don t ask men about theirselves when they
come in here. What a feller wants to tell, we
take ; what he keeps to hisself we wonder at with
out mentionin it.
"But you, sonny you couldn t keep it
from me. I know what it is, I know. I seen
it when you got off th train at Colt seen
that somethin had got you down. I knowed
for sure what it was when you stopped by th
saloon there. I knowed how honest you was
with yourself in that little meetin with Rhues.
I know all about it cause I ve been through
th same thing alone, an years ago."
After a pause he went on: "An just now,
when I seen you comin down that ridge after
th Captain, I knowed th right stuff was in you
because when a thing like that horse touches a
man off it s a sign he s th right kind, th kind
that wants to do things for th sake of knowin
his own strength. You ve got th stuff in you
to be a man, but you re fightin an awful fight.
88 "_I CONQUERED"
You need help; you ought to have friends you
ought to have a daddy!"
He gulped, and for a dozen strides there were
no more words.
"I feel like adoptin you, sonny, cause I know.
I feel like makin you a part of this here outfit,
which ain t never branded a colt that did n t
belong to it, which ain t never done nothin
but go straight ahead an be honest with itself,
good times an bad.
"I used to be proud when they called me Old
VB, cause they all knowed th brand was on th
level, an when they, as you might say, put it
on me, I felt like I was wearin some sort of
medal. I feel just like makin you part of th
VB Young VB - - cause I can help you here
an an fore God A mighty you need help,
man that you are!"
An hour and a half later, when the last dish
had been wiped, when the dishpan had been hung
away, Danny spoke the next words. He walked
close to the old man, his face quiet under the
new consciousness of how far he must go to
approach this new ideal. He took the hard old
hand in his own, covered its back with the other,
and muttered in a voice that was far from clear:
"Goodnight, Old VB."
And the other, to cover the tenderness in his
tone, snapped back: "Get to bed, Young VB;
they s that ahead of you to-morrow which 11
take every bit of your courage and strength!"
WITH HOOF AND TOOTH
SO IT came to pass that Danny Lenox of New
York ceased to exist, and a new man took
his place Young VB, of Clear River County,
"Who s your new hand?" a passing rider asked
Jed one morning, watching with interest as the
stranger practiced with a rope in the corral.
"Well, sir, he s th ridin est tenderfoot you
ever see!" Jed boasted. "I picked him up out
at Colt an put him to work after Charley
Where d he come from ? What s his name ?
the other insisted.
"From all appearances, he ain t of these parts,"
replied Jed, squinting at a distant peak. "An
around here we ve got to callin him Young
The rider, going south, told a man he met
that Jed had bestowed his brand on a human of
another generation. Later, he told it in Ranger.
The man he met on the road told it on Sand Creek ;
those who heard it in Ranger bore it off into the
hills, for even such a small bit of news is a meaty
morsel for those who sit in the same small com
pany about bunk-house stoves months on end.
9 o "_I CONQUERED"
The boy became known by name about the coun
try, and those who met him told others what the
stranger was like. Men were attracted by his
simplicity, his desire to learn, by his frank im
pulse to be himself yet of them.
"Oh, yes, he s th feller," they would recall,
and then recite with the variations that travel
gives to tales the incident that transpired in the
Anchor bunk house.
Young VB fitted smoothly into the work of
the ranch. He learned to ride, to rope, to shoot,
to cook, and to meet the exigencies of the range;
he learned the country, cultivated the instinct
of directions. And, above all, he learned to
love more than ever the little old man who
fathered and tutored him.
And Young VB became truly useful. It was
not all smooth progress. At times and they
were not infrequent the thirst came on him
with vicious force, as though it would tear his
will out by the roots.
The fever which that first run after the Cap
tain aroused, and which made him stronger than
doubtings, could not endure without faltering.
The ideal was ever there, but at times so elusive!
Then the temptings came, and he had to fight
Some of these attacks left him shaking in spite
of his mending nerves left him white in spite
of the brown that sun and wind put on him.
During the daytime it was bad enough, but
WITH HOOF AND TOOTH 91
when he woke in the night, sleep broken sharply,
and raised unsteady hands to his begging throat,
there was not the assuring word from Jed, or
the comfort of his companionship.
The old man took a lasting pride in Danny s
adaptability. His comments were few indeed,
but when the boy came in after a day of hard,
rough, effective toil, having done all that a son
of the hills could be expected to do, the little
man whistled and sang as though the greatest
good fortune in the world had come to him.
One morning Jed went to the corral to find VB
snubbing up an unbroken sorrel horse they had
brought in the day before. He watched from
a distance, while the young man, after many
trials, got a saddle on the animal s back.
"Think you can?" he asked, his eyes twinkling,
as he crawled up on the aspen poles to watch.
"I don t know, Jed, but it s time I found out!"
was the answer, and in it was a click of steely
It was not a nice ride, not even for the short
time it lasted. Young VB "went and got it"
early in the melee. He clung desperately to the
saddle horn with one hand, but with the other
he plied his quirt and between every plunge his
spurs raked the sides of the bucking beast.
He did not know the art of such riding, but
the courage was there and when he was thrown
it was only at the moment when the sorrel put
into the battle his best.
92 "__I CONQUERED"
VB got to his feet and wiped the dust from his
"Hurt?" asked Jed.
"Nothing but my pride," muttered the boy.
He grasped the saddle again, got one foot in the
stirrup, and, after being dragged around the
inclosure, got to the seat.
Again he was thrown, and when he arose and
made for the horse a third time Jed slipped down
from the fence to intervene.
"Not again to-day," he said, with a pride that
he could not suppress. "Take it easy; try him
"But I don t want to give up!" protested the
boy. "I can ride that horse."
"You ain t givin up; I made you," the other
smiled. "You ought to have been born in the
hills. You d have made a fine bronc twister.
Ain t it a shame th way men are wasted just by
bein born out of place?"
VB seemed not to hear. He rubbed the nose
of the frantic horse a moment, then said:
" If I could get this near the Captain Jed,
if I could ever get a leg over that stallion he d
be mine or I d die trying!"
"Still thinkin of him?"
"All the time! I never forget him. That
fellow has got into my blood. He s the biggest
thing in this country the strongest and I
want to show him that there s something a little
stronger, something that can break the power
WITH HOOF AND TOOTH 93
he s held so long and that I am that some
"That s considerable ambition," Jed said,
casually, though he wanted to hug the boy.
"I know it. Most people out here would think
me a fool if they heard me talk this way. Me,
a greenhorn, a tenderfoot, talking crazily about
doing what not one of you has ever been able
"Not exactly, VB. It s th wantin to do
things bad enough that makes men do em,
remember. This feller busted you twice, but
you ve got th stuff under your belt that makes
horses behave. That s th only stuff that ll
ever make th Captain anything but th wild
thing he is now. Sand! Grit! Th wantin to
A cautious whistle from Jed that afternoon
called VB into a thicket of low trees, from where
he looked down on a scene that drove home
even more forcibly the knowledge of the strength
of spirit that was incased in the glossy coat of
the great stallion.
"Look!" the old man said in a low voice,
pointing into the gulch. " It s a Percheron
one of Thorpe s stallions. He s come into th
Captain s band an they re goin to fight!"
VB looked down on the huge gray horse,
heavier by three hundred pounds than the black,
stepping proudly along over the rough gulch
bottom, tossing his head, twisting it about on
94 -I CONQUERED"
his neck, his ears fiat, his tail switching savagely.
Up the far rise huddled the mares. The Cap
tain was driving the last of them into the bunch
as VB came in sight. That done, he turned to
watch the coming of the gray.
Through the stillness the low, malicious, muf
fled crying of the Percheron came to them clearly
as he pranced slowly along, parading his graces
for the mares up there, displaying his strength
to their master, who must come down and battle
for his sovereignty.
The Captain stood and watched as though
mildly curious, standing close to his mares. His
tail moved slowly, easily, from side to side. His
ears, which had been stiffly set forward at first,
slowly dropped back.
The gray drew nearer, to within fifty yards,
forty, thirty. He paused, pawed the ground,
and sent a great puff of dust out behind him.
Then he swung to the left and struck up the
incline, headed directly for the Captain, striding
forward to humble him under the very noses of
his mares the band that would be the prize
of that coming conflict!
He stopped again and pawed spitefully. He
rose on his hind legs slowly, head shaking, fore
feet waving in the air, as though flexing his
muscles before putting them to the strain of
He settled to the ground barely in time, for
with a scream of rage the black horse hurtled.
WITH HOOF AND TOOTH 95
He seemed to be under full speed at the first
leap, and the speed was terrific!
Foam had gathered on his lips, and the rush
down the pitch flung it spattering against his
glossy chest. His shrilling did not cease from
the time he left his tracks until, with front hoofs
raised, a catapult of living, quivering hate, he
hurled himself at the gray. It ended then in
a wail of frenzy not of fear, but of royal rage
at the thought of any creature offering challenge!
The gray dropped back to all fours, whirled
sharply, and took the impact at a glancing blow,
a hip cringing low as the ragged hoofs of the black
crashed upon it. The Captain stuck his feet
stiffly into the ground, plowing great ruts in the
earth in his efforts to stop and turn and meet
the rush of the other, as he recovered from the
first shock, gathered headway, and bore down
on him. He overcame his momentum, turning
as he came to a stop, lifted his voice again, and
rose high to meet hoof for hoof the ponderous
attack that the bigger animal turned on him.
The men above heard the crash of their meeting.
The impact of flesh against flesh was terrific.
For the catch of an instant the horses seemed
to poise, the Captain holding against the fury
that had come upon him, holding even against
the odds of lightness and up-hill fighting. Then
they swayed to one side, and VB uttered a low
cry of joy as the Captain s teeth buried them
selves in the back of the Percheron s neck.
96 "__I CONQUERED"
Close together then they fought, throwing
dirt and stones, ripping up the brush as their
rumbling feet found fresh hold and then tore
away the earth under the might that was brought
to bear in the assault and resistance. A dozen
times they rushed upon each other, a dozen
times they parted and raised for fresh attack.
And each time the gray body and the black
met in smacking crash it was the former that
gave way, notwithstanding his superior weight.
"Look at him!" whispered Jed. "Look at
that cuss! He hates that gray so that he s got
th fear of death in him! Look at them ears!
Hear him holler! He s too quick. Too quick,
an he s got th spirit that makes up th difference
in weight an more, too!"
He stopped with a gasp as the Captain, catch
ing the other off balance, smote him on the ribs
with his hoofs until the blows sounded like the
rumble of a drum. The challenger threw up his
head in agony and cringed beneath the torment,
running side wise with bungling feet.
"He like to broke his back!" cried Jed.
"And look at him bite!" whispered VB.
The Captain tore at the shoulders and neck
of the gray horse with his gleaming, malevolent
teeth. Again and again they found fleshhold,
and his neck bowed with the strength he put
into the wrenching, while his feet kept up their
No pride of challenge in the gray now; no
WITH HOOF AND TOOTH 97
display of graces for the onlooking mares; no
attacking; just impotent resistance, as the
Captain drove him on and on down the gulch,
humbled, terrified, routed.
The sounds of conflict became fainter as the
Percheron strove to make his escape and the
Captain relentlessly followed him, the desire to
kill crying from his every line.
The battling beasts rounded a point of rocks,
and the two men sprang to their horses to follow
the moving fight. But they were no more than
mounted when the Captain came back, swinging
along in his wonderful trot, ears still flat, head
still shaking, anger possessing him anger and
He was unmarked by the conflict, save with
sweat and dust and foam; he was still possessed
of his superb strength. He went up the pitch
to his band with all the vigor of stride he had
displayed in flying from it to answer the presump
tion of the gray. And the mares, watching him,
seemed to draw long breaths, dropped their
heads to the bunch grass, and, one by one, moved
along in their grazing.
Jed looked at VB. What he saw in the boy s
face made him nod his head slowly in affirmation.
"You re that sort, too," he whispered exult-
ingly. "You re that sort! His kind!"
A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR
HP HE next day Jed declared for a trip to Ranger
* after grub. The trip was necessary, and it
would be an education for VB, he said with a
chuckle, to see the town. But when they were
ready to start a rider approached the ranch.
"If it ain t Kelly!" Jed cried. Then, in expla
nation: "He s a horse buyer, an must be comin
to see me."
And the man s desire to look over the VB stuff
was so strong that Jed declared it would be busi
ness for him to stay at home.
In a way, Danny was glad of the opportunity
to go alone. It fed the glowing pride in his
ability to do things, to be of use, and after a short
interchange of drolleries with the man Kelly,
whom he instinctively liked, the boy mounted
to the high wagon seat and drove off down the
It was a long drive, and hours alone are con
ducive to thought. Danny s mind went back
over the days that had passed, wandering along
those paths he had followed since that July
morning in the luxuriously dim house on River
side Drive. And the reason for his departing
from the old way came back to him now, because
A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR 99
he was alone, with nothing to divert his attention.
The old turbulence arose; it wore and wore with
the miles, eating down to his will, teasing, coax
ing, threatening, pleading, fuming.
"Will it always be so?" he asked the distances.
"When it comes to challenge me, to take away
all that I hold dear, shall I always be afraid?
Shan t I be able to stand and fight and triumph,
merely raging because it dares tempt me instead
of fearing this thing itself?"
And he spoke as he thought in terms of his
ideal, as materialized in the Captain.
"But will it always be so with him?" he asked
again. "Won t some horse come to challenge
him some day and batter him down and make
defeat all the more bitter because of the suprem
acy he has enjoyed? Would it then be worth
And as he bowed his head he thought once more
of the beacon in the bottle, corking it up, driving
back the shadows, making a livable place in the
Nothing is ever intrinsically curious. Curi-
ousness comes solely from relationships. Time
and place are the great factors in creating oddi
ties. Five miles farther on VB saw a curious
thing. This was at the forks of the road. To his
right it went off behind the long, rocky point
toward Sand Creek; to the left it wandered
through the sage brush over toward the S Bar S
ioo "_I CONQUERED"
Ranch, and ahead it ran straight on to Ranger.
Along the prong that twisted to the left went
an automobile. Nothing curious about that to
VB, for many times he had seen Bob Thorpe
driving his car through the country.
But at the wheel was a lone figure crowned by
a mass of yellow hair. That was the curious
thing he saw!
All VB could distinguish at that distance with
his hot eyes was yellow hair. The machine
picked its way carefully along the primitive road,
checking down here, shooting ahead there, going
on toward the horizon, bearing the yellow
hair away from him, until it was only a crawling
thing with a long, floating tail of dust. But
it seemed to him he could still make out that
bright fleck even after the automobile had become
"She s alone," muttered VB. "She s driving
that car alone and out here!"
Then he wondered with a laugh why he should
think it so strange. Many times he had ridden
down Fifth Avenue in the afternoon traffic
congestion beside a woman who piloted her own
car. Surely the few hazards of this thorough
fare were not to be compared with that!
But it was the incongruity which his associa
tion of ideas brought up that made him tingle
a little. That hair! It did not belong out here.
He had not been near enough to see the girl s
face he was sure it was a girl, not a grown
CALIFORNIA WESTERN UNIVERSITY
A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR 101
woman but the color of her crowning adorn
ment suggested many and definite things. And
those things were not of these waste places ; were
not rough and primal. They were finer, higher.
Once before he had experienced this nameless,
pleasurable sensation of being familiar with the
unknown. That had been when Jed had sketched
with a dozen unrelated words a picture of the
daughter of the house of Thorpe.
The motor car with its fair-haired pilot had
been gone an hour when Danny, watching a
coyote skulk among distant rocks, said aloud:
East college I 11 bet I I wonder "
Dusk had come w r hen Young VB entered
Ranger and put up at the ranch, which made as
much pretense of buildings as did the town itself.
Morning found him weak and drawn, as it alw-ays
did after a night of the conflict, yet he was up
with the sun, eager to be through with his task
and back with Jed.
Purchasing supplies is something of a rite in
Ranger, and under other conditions, on another
day perhaps, it might have amused VB ; but with
the unrest within him he found little about the
procedure that did not irritate.
In the store there one may buy everything in
hardware from safety pins to trace chains; gro
ceries range from canned soup to wormy nuts;
in drugs anything, bounded on one end by horse
liniment and on the other extreme by eye-drops
guaranteed to prevent cataracts, is for sale; and
io2 "_I CONQUERED"
overalls and sewing silk are alike popular com
modities. All is in fine order, and the manager
is a walking catalogue of household necessities.
VB was relieved when the buying had been
accomplished. He crowded a can of ten-cent
tobacco into the pocket of his new overalls and
started for the team. A dozen strides away from
the store building he paused to look about. It
was his first inspection of Ranger in daylight,
and now as he surveyed its extent his sense of
humor rose above the storm within him, and
The store, with its conventional false front,
stood beside the post office, which was built as
a lean-to. Next to it was a building of red corru
gated iron, and sounds of blacksmithing issued
from it. Behind VB was a tiny house, with a
path running from it to the store, the home of
the manager. Next it a log cabin. Down at
the left, near the river, was another house,
deserted, the ranch where he had stayed, and
beyond it a trio of small shacks on the river bank.
"Ranger," he muttered, and chuckled.
The road, brown and soft with fine dust,
stretched on and on toward Utah, off to the west
where silence was supreme.
The buildings were all on the north side of the
"A south front was the idea, I suppose," VB
murmured. "Mere matter of "
His gaze had traveled across the road to a
A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR 103
lone building erected there, far back against a
sharp rise of ground. It stood apart, as though
consciously aloof from the rest, a one-story struc
ture, and across its front a huge white sign, on
which in black characters was painted the word:
Unconsciously his tongue came out to wet the
parched lips and his fingers plucked at the seams
of the new overalls.
Why not? the insidious self argued, why not?
All changes must come gradually. Nothing can
be accomplished in a moment. Just one drink
to cool his throat, to steady his nerves, and brace
him for the fight he would make later.
As he stood there listening to that inner voice,
yet holding it off, he did not hear the fall of hoofs
behind him or the jingle of spurs as a rider dis
mounted and approached.
But he did hear the voice drawling, nasty,
"Was you considerin havin a bit o refresh
VB wheeled quickly and looked straight into
the gieen glitter of Rhues s red-lidded eyes.
The cruel mouth was stretched in an angular
grin, and the whole countenance expressed the
incarnate spirit of the bully.
io 4 "I CONQUERED"
Into Danny s mind leaped the idea that this
thing before him, this evil-eyed, jeering, leering,
daring being, typified all that was foul in his
heart just as the Captain typified all that was
The intuitive repulsion surged to militant hate.
He wanted to smother the breath which kept
alive such a spirit, wanted to stamp into the dust
the body that housed it because it mocked
him and tempted him! But Young VB only
turned and brushed past the man without a word.
He heard Rhues s laughter behind him, and
heard him call : Ranger ain t no eastern Sunday
school. Better have one an be a man, like th
rest o th boys!"
However, when Rhues turned back to his
pony the laugh was gone and he was puzzling
over something. After he had mounted, he
looked after the boy again maliciously.
VB was on the road in half an hour, driving
the horses as fast as he dared. He wanted to be
back in Jed s cabin, away from Ranger. This
thing had followed him across the country to
Colt; from Colt to the Anchor; and now It lurked
for him in Ranger. The ranch was his haven.
The settlement by the river reached its claws
after him as he drove, fastening them in his
throat and shaking his will until it seemed as
though it had reached the limit of its endurance.
It was dark when he reached home. A mile
away he had seen the light and smiled weakly
A HEAD OF YELLOW HAIR 105
at thought of it, and the horses, more than willing,
carried the wagon over the remaining distance
with a bouncing that threatened its contents.
When VB pulled up before the outer gate Jed
hurried from the cabin.
"VB," he called, "are you all right?"
"All right, Jed," he answered, dropping from
And the boy thought he heard the older man
thank his God.
Without words, they unharnessed and went
to the cabin. Kelly was sleeping loudly in the
adjoining room. The table had been moved
from its usual place nearer to the window, and
the bottle with its burning candle was close against
the pane. Jed looked at the candle, than at VB.
"I m sorry," he said, seeing the strain about
the boy s mouth. "I never thought about it
until come night, Young VB. I never thought
about it. I I guess I m an old fool, gettin
scared th way I do. So I shoved this candle
up against th window because I m an old
fool and thought it might help a little."
And VB answered: "It does help, Jed! Every
little thing helps. And oh, God, how I need it!"
He turned away.
OUMMER drew toward its close and the work
*J became more exacting. Jed was sure that
more of his colts ran the range without brands,
and the two rode constantly, searching every
gulch and break for the strays. One day they
went far to the east, and at noon encountered
three of Bob Thorpe s men building fence.
"It s his new drift fence," Jed explained.
"He s goin to have a lot of winter pasture, to be
sure he is. It ll help us, too. When we come
takin these here willow tails off this ridge they ll
find somethin new. It s so close up to the foot
of the rise that they can t jump it."
"Thorpe must be rich," remarked Young VB
as they went on along the fence.
"Rich don t say it! He s rollin in money,
an he sure knows how to enjoy it. Every winter,
when things gets squared away, he takes his wife
an goes to California. I s pose he ll be takin
his girl, too now that she s quit goin to school."
The boy wanted to ask questions about this
daughter of Bob Thorpe s, but a diffidence, for
which there was no accounting, held him back.
He was curious as he had been whenever he heard
of or thought of her, and as he had been when he
had once seen her. But somehow he did not care
to admit that curiosity even to Jed, and when he
tried to analyze the reason for his reticence there
was no doing so.
Now came more knowledge of the waste places
with weeks of riding; more knowledge of the
barren area in his own heart with self-study;
more pertinent, that which the Captain typified.
And all the time that struggle continued, which
at times seemed only the hopeless floundering
of a man in quicksands life on the river bank
so close; death below, certain, mocking his
"He has faith in himself because he is physi
cally equipped," VB murmured one day as he
saw the Captain standing against the sky on a
distant ridge. "His belief in himself is justified.
But. I what do I know about my own capa
Yet a latent quality in the boy was the sort
that offsets doubts, else why this emulation of the
stallion, why this feeling that was almost love,
constant, always growing, never hesitating ?
Like most men, Young VB was unprepared for
the big moments of his life. Could we only
foresee them, is the plaint of men! Could we
only know and go out to meet them in spirit
proper! And yet that very state of preparation
might take from the all-encompassing grandeur
of those passages a potent element.
io8 _I CONQUERED"
After all, this scheme of things has its com
pensations, and inability to foretell the future
may be one of the greatest.
With fear in his heart and black discourage
ment and lack of faith, Young VB went out to
meet what proved to be his first great moment.
Jed had gone to the railroad, bound for the
Springs, to untangle a mess of red tape that had
snarled about his filing on some land. VB was
left alone, and for days the young fellow saw no
one. In the natural loneliness that followed, the
assault came upon him with manifold force. He
could not sleep, could not eat, could not remain
in one place or keep his mind on a fixed purpose.
He walked about, talking to himself in the
.silence, trying ineffectually to do the necessary
work of the ranch, trying to stifle the loud voice
that begged him to forego all the struggle and
let his impulses carry him where they would.
But were not his impulses carrying him?
Was it not his first impulse to go on with the
fight? He did not think of that.
At times it was hard indeed to differentiate
between the real and the unreal. The voice
that wheedled was such a twister of words and
terms, and its ally, the thirst, raged with such
virility that he was forced to do something with
his body. To remain an unresisting victim to
the torture would only invite disaster.
Throwing a saddle on his "top" horse, Young
VB set out, leaving the half -prepared dinner as
it was, unable even to wait for food. He rode
swiftly up the gulch to where it forked, and then
to the right, letting the stanch animal under
him cover the ground at a swinging trot. In
three hours he was miles from the ranch, far
back in the hills, and climbing to the top of a
stretching ridge. He breathed through his mouth,
to let the air on his burning throat, and twisted
his bridle reins until the stout leather was mis
shapen, utterly lost in the conflict which went
on within, heedless cf all else.
Suddenly he realized that his horse had come
a long distance without rest. He dismounted in
a thicket of cedars, sharply repentant that his
own torment had led him to forget the beast
that served him, and even the distraction of
that concern brought relief.
With the cinch eased the horse stood and
breathed gratefully. But he was not fagged,
he was still alert and eager. His ears were set
stiffly forward, and he gazed upwind, sniffing
softly now and then.
"What you see, cayuse?" VB asked, trying
to make out the cause of that attentiveness.
Again the sniffing, and of a sudden the horse
froze, stopped his breathing, and VB, a hand
on the beast s hip, felt a quick tremor run through
Then the man saw that which had caused the
animal to tremble, and the sight set him tingling
just as it always did.
no "_I CONQUERED"
A hundred yards up the ridge, sharp against
the sky, commanding, watchful, stood the Cap
tain. He had not seen or scented VB, for he
looked in other directions, moving his head from
point to point, scanning every nook of the coun
try below him. Something mannish there was
about that beast, a comprehensive, planned vigi
lance. Down below him in a sag fed the mares.
As VB looked at that watcher he felt the lust
to possess crawling up, surging through him,
blotting out that other desire, that torment,
making his breath congest, making his mouth
dry. He tightened his cinch and mounted.
The Captain did not see VB until the rider
came clear of the cover in which he had halted.
For the instant only, as the rushing horseman
broke through the cedars, a scudding, fluttering
object hurtling across the low brush, the black
stallion stood as though his feet were imbedded
in the rock under him, his head full toward the
rushing rider, nose up, astonishment in the very
angle of his stiff ears. Then those ears went
flat; the sleek body pivoted on its dainty hind
feet, and a scream of angered warning came
from the long throat.
Even as the Captain s front hoofs clawed the
ground in his first leap, the mares were running.
They drew close together, frightened by the
abruptness of the alarm, scuttling away from the
punishment they knew would be coming from,
their master if they wasted seconds.
VB was possessed again. His reason told him
that a single horseman had no chance in the
world with that bunch, that he could not hope
to keep up even long enough to scatter the band,
that he would only run his mount down, good
horse that he was. But the lust urged him on,
tugging at his vitals, and he gave vent to his
excitement in sharp screams of joy, the joy of
the hunt and the joy of honest attempt at
The dust trailed behind the bunch, enveloping
the rushing Captain in a dun mantle, finally to
be whipped away by the breeze. They tore
down stiff sagebrush in their flight; and so great
was the strain that their bellies skimmed incred
ibly close to the ground.
VB s horse caught the spirit of the chase, as
do all animals when they follow their kind. He
extended himself to the last fiber, and with aston
ishment a glad astonishment that brought a
whoop of triumph the boy saw that the mares
were not drawing away that he was crawling
up on them!
But the Captain! Ah, he was running away
from the man who gave chase, was putting more
distance between them at every thundering leap,
was drawing closer to his slower mares, lip
stretched back over his gleaming teeth, jaws
working as he strained to reach them and make
that band go still faster.
VB s quirt commenced to sing its goading tune,
ri2 "_I CONQUERED"
slashing first on one side, then on the other. He
hung far forward over the fork of his saddle,
leaning low to offer the least possible resistance
to the wind. Now and then he called aloud to
his pony, swearing with glad savagery.
The Captain reached his bunch, closing in on
them with a burst of speed that seemed beyond
the abilities of blood and bone. The man behind
thought he heard those long teeth pop as they
caught the rump of a scurrying mare; surely he
heard the stallion s scream of rage as, after
nipping mare after mare, running to and fro
behind them, he found that they had opened
their hearts to the last limit and could go no
faster. They could not do it and the rider
behind was crawling up, jump for jump, gaining
a yard, losing a foot, gaining again, steadily,
VB did not know that Kelly, the horse buyer,
and one of Dick Worth s riders had given the
outlaws a long, tedious race that morning as they
were coming in from the dry country to the
west for water and better feed. He did not
know that the band had been filling their bellies
with great quantities of water, crowding them
still more with grasses, until there was no room
left for the working of lungs, for the stretching
of taxed muscles.
He saw only the one fact : that he was gaining
on the Captain. He did not stop even to con
sider the obvious ending of such a chase. He
might scatter the band, but what of it? When
the last hope had been cast the Captain would
strike out alone, would turn all the energy that
now went to driving his mares to making good
his own escape, and then there would be no more
race just a widening of a breach that could not
But VB did not think of anything beyond the
next stride. His mind was possessed with the
idea that every leap of the laboring beast under
him must bring him closer to the huddle of
frantic horses, nearer to the flying hindquarters
of the jet leader who tried so hard to make his
authority override circumstance.
The slashing of the quirt became more vicious.
VB strained farther forward. His lips were
parted, his eyes strained open with excitement,
and the tears started by that rushing streamed
over his cheeks.
"E-e-eyah!" he shrieked.
The buckskin mare found a hole. Her hind
legs went into the air, sticking toward the sky
above that thundering clump of tossing, rushing
bodies with its fringes of fluttering hair. Her
legs seemed to poise a moment; then they went
down slowly. The Captain leaped her prostrate
body, to sink his teeth into the flank of a sorrel
that lagged half a length behind the others.
VB passed so near the buckskin as she gained
her faltering feet that he could have slashed her
with his quirt. Yet he had no eyes for her, had
ii4 I CONQUERED"
no heed for any of the mares. He was playing
for the bigger game.
The sorrel quit, unable to respond to that
punishment, fearful of her master. She angled
off to the right, to be rid of him, and disappeared
through a clump of trees. The stallion shrilled
his anger and disgust, slowing his gallop a half-
dozen jumps as though he wanted to follow and
punish her cruelly.
Then he glanced backward, threw his nose
in the air and, stretching to his own tremendous
speed again, stormed on.
The huddle of mares became less compact,
seemed to lose also its unity of purpose. The
Captain had more to do. His trips from flank
to flank of the band were longer. By the time
he had spurred the gray at the left back into
the lead the brown three-year-old on the other
wing was a loiterer by a length. Then, when
she was sent ahead, the gray was lagging again.
And another by her side, perhaps.
VB s throat was raw from the screaming, but
he did not know it no more than he knew that
his hat was gone or that his nerves still yearned
for their stinging stimulant.
The cry, coming again and again, worried the
Captain. Each time it crackled from VB s lips
the black nose was flung high and an eye which
glared orange hate even at that distance rolled
back to watch this yelling pursuer.
VB saw, and began to shout words at the ani
mal, to cry his challenge, to curse.
The galloping gray quit, without an attempt
to rally. The Captain brought to bear a terrific
punishment, dropping back to within thirty
yards of the man who pressed him, but it was
useless, for she was spent. The water and
luscious grass in her dammed up the reservoirs
of her vitality, would not let her respond. When
the stallion gave her up and tore on after the
others she dropped even her floundering gallop,
and as VB raced past her he heard the breath
sob down her throat.
On and across they tore, dropping into sags of
the ridge, climbing sharp little pitches, swinging
now to the right and bending back to the left
again in a sweeping curve. The uneven galloping
of the horse under him, the gulps for breath the
pony made as the footing fooled him and he
jolted sharply, the shiftings and duckings and
quick turnings as they stormed through groups
of trees, the rattle of brush as it smote his boot
toes and stirrups were all unheeded by VB.
Once his shoulder met a tough cedar bough,
and the blow wrenched it from its trunk. His
face w r as whipped to rawness by smaller branches,
and one knee throbbed dully where it had skimmed
a bowlder as they shot past. But he saw only
that floundering band ahead.
The buckskin was gone, the sorrel, the gray;
next, two mares quit together, and the Captain,
n6 "_I CONQUERED"
seeing them go, did not slacken his speed, did not
even scream his rage. Only four remained, and
he gambled on them as against the slight chance
of recovering any of those others ; for that scream
ing rider was closing in on him all the time.
Oh, water and grass! How necessary both are
to life, but how dangerous at a time like this!
Pop-pop! The teeth closed on those running
hips. The vainness of it all! They could go no
faster. They had tried first from instinct, then
from willingness; now they tried from fear as
their lord tortured them. But though the will
was there, the ability could not come, not even
when the Captain pushed through them, and in
a desperate maneuver set the pace, showing them
his fine heels and clean limbs, demonstrating how
easy it was to go on and on and draw away from
that rider who tugged at his muffler that wind
might find and cool his throat, burning now from
And so VB, the newest horse runner on the
range, scattered the Captain s band, accomplish
ing all that the best of the men who rode that
country had ever been able to boast.
The stallion tried once more to rally his mates
into escape, but their hearts were bursting, their
lungs clogged. They could do no more.
Then away he went alone, head high and turning
from side to side, mane flaunting, tail trailing grace
fully behind him, beauty in every regal line and
curve, majestic superiority in each stride he took.
He raced off into the country that stretched
eastward, the loser for the time of one set of con
quests but free free to go on and make himself
more high, more powerful, more a thing to be
emulated even by man.
He ran lightly, evenly, without effort, and the
gap between him and the rider behind, narrowed
by such tremendous exertion from that lathered
pony, widened with scarce an added effort.
But VB went on, driving his reeking pony merci
lessly. He had ceased yelling now. His face was
set; blood that had been whipped into it by his
frenzy, by the rushing of the wind, by the smiting
of branches, left the skin. It became white, and
from that visage two eyes glowed abnormally
brilliant. For the Captain was taking off the
ridge where it bent and struck into the north, was
plunging down over the pitch into the shadows.
He was going his best, in long, keen strides that
would carry him to the bottom with a momentum
so tremendous that on the flat he would be run
ning himself into a blur. And VB s face was
colorless, with eyes brilliant, because he knew
that along the bottom of the drop ran the
new drift fence that Bob Thorpe s men were
He began to plead with his pony, to talk to
him childishly, to beg him to keep his feet, to coax
him to last, to pray him to follow and in con
trol of himself, and on time! As they dropped
off the ridge, down through the sliding shale and
n8 "_I CONQUERED"
scattered brush, VB s right hand, upraised to
keep his balance, held the loop of his rope, and
the other, flung behind the cantle of his saddle,
grasped the coils of the sturdy hemp.
Oh, Captain, your speed was against you ! You
took off that ridge with those ground-covering
leaps, limbs flying, heart set on reaching the
bottom with a swirl of speed that would dis
hearten your follower. But you did not reckon on
an obstruction, on the thing your eyes encountered
when halfway down that height and going with
all the power within you. Those fresh posts and
the wires strung between them ! A fence ! Men
had invaded your territory with their barriers, and
at such a time! You knew, too, that there was
no jumping it; they had set the posts so far up
on the pitch that no take-off had been left.
So the Captain tried to stop. With haunches
far under him, front feet straight before, belly
scrubbing the brush, he battled to overcome the
awful impetus his body had received up above.
Sprawling, sliding, feet shooting in any direction
as the footing gave, he struggled to stop his
progress. It was no simple matter; indeed,
checking that flight was far more difficult than
the attaining of that speed. In the midst of roll
ing, bounding stones, sliding dust, breaking brush,
the great stallion gradually slowed his going. Slow
and more slowly he went on toward the bottom;
almost stopped, but still was unable to bring his
muscles into play for a dash to right or left
On behind, pony floundering in the wake of the
Captain, rode VB, right hand high, snapping
back and forth to hold him erect, rope dangling
from it crazily. He breathed through his mouth,
and at every exhalation his vocal chords vibrated.
Perhaps even then the Captain might have
won. The odds of the game were all against
him, it is true, for breaking down the pitch as
he did, it required longer for him to reach the
bottom in possession of his equilibrium than it
did the slower-moving horse that bore VB. It
would have been a tight squeeze for the horse,
but the man was in a poor position to cast his
loop with any degree of accuracy.
But a flat sliding stone discounted all other
factors. Nothing else mattered. The Captain
came to a stop, eyes wild, ears back. With a
slow-starting, mighty lunge, he made as though
to turn and race down along the line of fence
before VB could get within striking distance.
The great muscles contracted, his ragged hoofs
sought a hold. The hind legs straightened, that
mighty force bore on his footing and the stone
slipped! The Captain was outlucked.
His hind legs shot backward, staggering him.
His hindquarters slipped downhill, throwing his
head up to confront VB. His nostrils flared,
that orange hate in his eyes met the glow from
his pursuer s, who came down upon him only
half a dozen lengths away!
IT does not take a horse that is bearing a rider
downhill an appreciable length of time to take
one more stride. Gravity does the work. The
horse jerks his fore legs from under his body and
then shoots them out again for fresh hold to keep
his downward progress within reason.
VB s pony went down the drop with much
more rapidity than safety, in short, jerky, stiff-
legged plunges, hindquarters scrooged far under
his body; alert, watching his footing, grunting
in his care not to take too great risks.
When the Captain, fooled by false footing,
was whirled about to face the down-coming rider,
the pony s fore feet had just drawn themselves
out of the way to let his body farther down the
slope. And when the sturdy legs again shot out
to strike rock and keep horse and VB upright,
the black stallion had started to wheel. But in
the split second which intervened between the
beginning and ending of that floundering jump,
eyes met eyes. The eyes of a man met the eyes
of a beast, and heart read heart. The eyes of a
man who had frittered his life, who had flaunted
his heritage of strength in body and bone until
he had become a weakling, a cringing, whining
center of abnormal nervous activities, fearing
himself, met the eyes of a beast that knew him
self to be a paragon of his kind, the final achieve
ment of his strain, a commanding force that had
never been curbed, that had defied alike his
own kingdom and the race from which had sprung
the being now confronting him.
The eyes of him who had been a weakling met
the eyes of that which had been superstrong
and without a waver; they held, they penetrated,
and, suddenly born from the purposeless life of
Danny Lenox, flamed Young VB s soul. All the
emulation, all the lust this beast before him had
roused in his heart, became amalgamated with
that part of him which subtly strove to drag
him away from debauchery, and upon those
blending elements of strength was set the lasting
stamp of his individuality.
His purpose flamed in his eyes and its light
was so great that the horse read, and, reading,
set his ears forward and screamed not so
much a scream of anger as of wondering terror.
For the beast caught the significance of that
splendid determination which made for conquest
with a power equal to his own strength, which
was making for escape. The telepathic com
munication from the one to the other was the
same force that sends a jungle king into antics
at the pleasure of his trainer the language that
The pony s hoofs dug shale once more, and the
122 "_I CONQUERED"
upraised right arm whipped about the tousled
head. The rope swished angrily as it slashed
the air. Once it circled and the Captain
jumped, lunging off to the left. Twice it cut its
disk and the stallion s quivering flanks gathered
for a second leap. It writhed; it stretched out
waveringly, seekingly, feelingly as though uncer
tain, almost blindly, but swiftly so swiftly !
The loop flattened and spread and undulated,
drawing the long stretch of hemp after it teas-
ingly. It stopped, as though suddenly tired.
It poised with uncanny deliberation. Then, as
gently as a maiden s sigh, it settled settled
drooped and the Captain s nose, reaching out
for liberty, to be free of this man whose eyes
flamed a determination so stanch that it went
down to his beast heart, thrust itself plumb
through the middle.
The hoarse rip of the hard-twist coming through
its hondu, the whistle of breath from the man s
tight teeth, the rattle of stone on stone; then the
squeal from the stallion as for the first time in
his life a bond tightened on him!
He shook his head angrily, and even as he
leaped a third time back toward his free hills
one forefoot was raised to strike from him the
snaring strand. The pawing hoof did not reach
its mark, did not find the thin, lithe thing which
throttled down on him, for the Captain s momen
tum carried him to the end of the rope.
They put the strain on the hemp, both going
away, those horses. VB struggled with his
mount to have him ready for the shock, but
before he could bring about a full stop that
shock arrived. It seemed as though it would
tear the horn from the saddle. The pony,
sturdy little beast, was yanked to his knees and
swung half about, and VB recovered himself only
by grabbing the saddle fork.
The black stallion again faced the man
faced him because his heels had been cracked in
a semicircle through the air by the force of that
burning thing about his neck. For ten long
seconds the Captain stood braced against the
rope, moving his head slowly from side to side
for all the world as a refractory, gentled colt
might do, with as much display of fight as would
be shown by a mule that dissented at the idea
of being led across a ditch. He just stood there
stupidly, twisting his head.
The thick mane rumpled up under the tight
ening rope, some of the drenched hair of the neck
was pulled out as the hemp rolled upward,
drawing closer, shutting down and down. The
depression in the flesh grew deeper. One hind
foot lost its hold in the shale and shot out; the
Captain lifted it and moved it forward again
slowly, cautiously, for fresh, steady straining.
Then it came. The windpipe closed; he
coughed, and like the sudden fury of a moun
tain thunderstorm the Captain turned loose his
giant forces. The thing had jerked him back in
124. "I CONQUERED"
his rush toward freedom. It held him where he
did not want to be held! And it choked!
Forefeet clawing, rearing to his hind legs with
a quivering strength of lift that dragged the
bracing pony through the shale, the great, black
horse-regal screamed and coughed his rage and
beat upon that vibrating strand which made him
prisoner that web that fragile thing !
Again and again he struck it, but it only
danced only danced, and tightened its clutch
on his throat! He reached for it with his long
teeth and clamped them on it, but the thing
would not yield. He settled to all fours again,
threw his head from side to side, and strove
to move backward with a frenzied floundering
that sent the pebbles rattling yards about him.
It was a noble effort. Into the attempt to
drag away from that anchorage the Captain
put his very spirit. He struggled and choked
and strained. And all the time that man sat
there on his horse, tense, watching silently, mov
ing his free hand slightly to and fro, as though
beating time to music. His lips were parted,
his face still blanched. And in his eyes glowed
that purpose which knows no defeat!
System departed. Like a hot blast wickedness
came. Teeth bared, ears flat, with sounds like
an angered child s ranting coming from his
throat, the stallion charged his man enemy just
as he had charged the powerful Percheron who
had come to challenge him a month ago. The
saddle horse, seeing it, avoided the brunt of the
first blind rush, taking the Captain s shoulder
on his rump as the black hurtler went past,
striking thin air.
VB felt the Captain s breath, saw from close
up the lurid flame in his eyes, sensed the power
of those teeth, the sledge-hammer force behind
those untrimmed hoofs. And he came alive,
the blood shooting close under his skin again and
making the gray face bronze, then deeper than
bronze. His eyes puffed under the stress of that
emotion, and he felt a primitive desire to growl
as the Captain whirled and came again. It
was man to beast, and somewhere down yonder
through the generations a dead racial memory
came back and Young VB, girded for the conflict,
ached to have his forest foe in reach, to have
the fight run high, to have his chance to dare
and do in fleshly struggle!
It was not long in coming. The near hoof, strik
ing down to crush his chest, fell short, and the hair
of VB s chap leg went ripping from the leather,
while along his thigh crept a dull, spreading ache.
He did not notice that, though, for he was
raised in his stirrups, right hand lifted high, its
fingers clutched about the lash of his loaded quirt.
He felt the breath again, hot, wet, and a splatter
of froth from the flapping lips struck his cheek.
Then the right hand came down with a snap and
a jerk, with all the vigor of muscular force that
VB could summon.
126 "__I CONQUERED"
His eye had been good, his judgment true.
The Captain s teeth did not sink into his flesh,
for the quirt-butt, a leaden slug, crunched on
the horse s skull, right between the ears!
The fury of motion departed, like the going
of a cyclone. The Captain dropped to all fours
and hung his head, staggered a half-dozen short
paces drunkenly, and then sighed deeply
He reached the end of the rope. It came tight
again, and with the tightening the battle !
Thrice more he charged the man with all the
hate his wild heart could summon, but not once
did those dreadful teeth find that which they
sought. Again the front hoof met its mark and
racked the flesh of VB s leg, but that did not
matter. He could stand that punishment, for he
was winning! He was countering the stallion s
efforts, which made the contest an even break;
and his rope was on and he had dealt one telling
blow with his quirt. Two points! And the boy
screamed his triumph as the missile he swung
landed again, on the soft nose this time, the nose
so wrinkled with hateful desire and the Cap
tain swung off to one side from the stinging force
Not in delight at punishment was that cry.
The blow on the skull, the slug at the nose stabbed
VB to his tenderest depths. But he knew it
must be so, and his shout was a shout of conquest
of the first man asserting primal authority,
of the last man coming into his own!
The dust they stirred rose stiflingly. Down
there under the hill no moving breath of air
would carry it off. The pony under VB grunted
and strained, but was jerked sharply about by
the rushes of the heavier stallion, heavier and
built of things above mere flesh and bone and
tendon. The Captain s belly dripped water;
VB s face was glossy with it, his hair plastered
down to brow and temple.
The three became tired. In desperation the
Captain dropped the fight, turned to run, plunged
out as though to part the strands. VB s heart
leaped as his faith in the rope faltered but it
held, and the stallion, pulled about, lost his
footing, floundered, stumbled, went down, and
rolled into the shale, feet threshing the air.
It was an opening the widest VB had had,
wider than he could have hoped for, and he
rushed in, stabbing his horse shamelessly with
spurs and babbling witlessly as he strove to make
slack in the rope. The slack came. Then the
quick jerk of the wrist the trick he had per
fected back there in Jed s corral and a poten
tial half -hitch traveled down the rope.
The Captain floundered to get his feet under
him, and the loop in the rope dissolved. Again
the wrist twitch, again the shooting loop and -
Scotched ! screamed Young VB. " Scotched !
You re my property!"
Scotched! The rope had found its hold about
the off hind ankle of the soiled stallion, and there
128 "__I CONQUERED"
it clung in a tight, relentless grasp. The rope
from neck to limb was so short that it kept the
foot clear of the ground, crippling the Captain,
and as the great horse floundered to his feet VB
had him powerless. The stallion stood dazed,
looking down at the thing which would not let
him kick, which would not let him step.
Then he sprang forward, and when the rope
came tight he was upended, a shoulder plowing
" It s no use ! " the man cried, his voice crackling
in excitement. "I ve got you right right -
But the Captain would not quit. He tried
even then to rise to his hind legs and make
assatilt, but the effort only sent him falling back
ward, squealing and left him on his side,
moaning for his gone liberty.
For he knew. He knew that his freedom was
gone, even as he made his last floundering,
piteous endeavors. He got up and tried to run,
but every series of awkward moves only sent his
black body down into the dust and dirt, and at
last he rested there, head up, defiance still in his
eyes, but legs cramped under him.
And then VB wanted to cry. He went through
all the sensations the abrupt drop of spirits,
the swelling in the throat, the tickling in the
"Oh, Captain!" he moaned. "Captain, don t
you see I wouldn t harm you? Only you had
to be mine! I had to get bigger than you were,
Captain for my own salvation. It was the
only way, boy; it was the only way!"
And he sat there for a long time, his eyes
without the light of triumph, on his captive.
His heart-beats quickened, a new warmth
commenced to steal through his veins, a new
faith in self welled up from his innermost depths,
making his pulses sharp and hard, making his
muscles swell, sending his spirit up and up.
He had fought his first big fight and he had
Blood began to drip from the stallion s nose.
"It s where I struck you!" whispered VB, the
triumph all gone again, solicitation and a vast
love possessing him. "It s where I struck you,
Captain. Oh, it hurts me, too but it must be
so, because things are as they are. There will
be more hurts, boy, before we re through. But
it must be!"
His voice gritted on the last.
Sounds from behind roused VB, and he looked
The sunlight was going even from the ridge
up there, and the whole land was in shadow. He
was a long way from the ranch with this trophy
his, but still ready to do battle at the end of
"Got one?" a man cried, coming up, and VB
recognized him as one of the trio of fence builders,
riding back to their camp.
i 3 o "_I CONQUERED"
"Yes one," muttered VB, and turned to
look at the Captain.
Then the man cried: "You ve got th Cap
"It s the Captain," said VB unsteadily, as
though too much breath were in his lungs. He s
mine you know mine !
The others looked at him in silent awe.
A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE
JED A VERY had been away from Young VB
almost two weeks, and he had grown im
patient in the interval. So he pushed his bay
pony up the trail from Ranger, putting the miles
behind him as quickly as possible. The little
man had fretted over every step of the journey
homeward, and from Colt on into the hills it
was a conscious effort that kept him from abus
ing his horse by overtravel.
"If he should have gone an busted over while
I was away I d I d never forgive myself
lettin that boy go to th bad just for a dinky
It was the thousandth time he had made the
declaration, and as he spoke the words a thank
fulness rose in his heart because of what he had
not heard in Ranger. He knew that VB had kept
away from town. Surely that was a comfort, an
assurance, a justification for his faith that was
firm even under the growling.
Still, there might have been a wanderer with
And as he came in sight of his own buildings
Jed put the pony to a gallop for the first time
during that long journey. Smoke rose from the
132 "_I CONQUERED"
chimney, the door stood open, an atmosphere of
habitation was about the place, and that proved
something. He crowded his horse close against
the gate, leaned low, unfastened the hasp, and
rode on through.
"Oh, VB!" he called, and from the cabin came
an answering hail, a scraping of chair legs, and
the young fellow appeared in the doorway.
"How s th "
Jed did not finish the question then or
ever. His eagerness for the meeting, the light
of anticipation that had been in his face, dis
appeared. He reined up his horse with a stout
jerk, and for a long moment sat there motion
less, eyes on the round corral. Then his shoulders
slacked forward and he raised a hand to scratch
his chin in bewilderment.
For yonder, his nose resting on one of the gate
bars, watching the newcomer, safe in the inclo-
sure, alive, just as though he belonged there,
stood the Captain!
After that motionless moment Jed turned his
eyes back to Young VB, and stared blankly,
almost witlessly. Then he raised a limp hand
and half pointed toward the corral, while his lips
formed a soundless question.
VB stepped from the doorway and walked
toward Jed, smiling.
"Yes," he said with soft pride, as though
telling of a sacred thing, "the Captain is there
in our corral."
A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE 133
Jed drew a great breath.
"Did you do it and alone?"
"Well, there wasn t any one else about," VB
Again Jed s chest heaved.
"Well, I ma"
He ended in inarticulate distress, searching for
a proper expletive, mouth open and ready, should
he find one. Then he was off his horse, both
hands on the boy s shoulders, looking into the
eyes that met his so steadily.
"You done it, Young VB!" he cried brokenly.
"You done it! Oh, I m proud of you! Your
old adopted daddy sure is! You done it all by
yourself, an it s somethin that nobody has
ever been able to do before!"
Then they both laughed aloud, eyes still
"Come over and get acquainted," suggested
VB. "He s waiting for us."
They started for the corral, Jed s eyes, now
flaming as they took in the detail of that won
derful creature, already seen by him countless
times, but now for the first time unfree.
The stallion watched them come, moving his
feet up and down uneasily and peering at them
between the bars. VB reached for the gate
fastening, and the horse was away across the
corral, snorting, head up, as though fearful.
"Why, Captain!" the boy cried. "What
i 3 4 " I CONQUERED"
"What ails him?" cried Jed. "Man alive,
I d expect to see him tryin to tear our hearts
"Oh, but he s like a woman!" VB said softly,
watching the horse as he swung the gate open.
They stepped inside, Jed with caution. VB
walked straight across to the horse and laid his
hand on the splendid curve of the rump.
"Well, I m a" Again Jed could find no
proper word to express his astonishment. He
simply took off his hat and swung it in one hand,
like an embarrassed schoolgirl.
"Come over and meet the boss, Captain,"
VB laughed, drawing the black head around by
its heavy forelock.
And the Captain came unexpectedly. The
boy realized the danger with the first plunge and
threw his arms about the animal s neck, crying
to him to be still. And Jed realized, too. He
slipped outside, putting bars between himself and
those savage teeth which reached out for his body.
Foiled, the stallion halted.
"Captain," exclaimed VB, "what ails you?"
"To be sure, nothin ails him," said Jed sagely.
"You re his master; you own him, body and soul;
but you ain t drove th hate for men out of his
heart. He seems to love you but not others
His voice died out as he watched the black
beast make love to the tall young chap who
scolded into his dainty ear. The soft, thin lips
A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE 135
plucked at VB s clothing, nuzzling about him as
he stood with arms clasped around the glossy
neck. The great cheek rubbed against the boy s
side until it pushed him from his tracks, though
he strained playfully against the pressure. Such
was the fierceness of that horse s allegiance. His
nostrils fluttered, but no sound came from them:
the beast whisperings of affection. All the time
VB scolded softly, as a father might banter with
a child. And when the boy looked up a great
pride was in his face, and Jed understood.
"That s right, Young VB be proud of it!
Be proud that he s yours; be proud that he s
yours, an yours only. Keep him that way; to
be sure, an you ve earned it!"
Then he stepped close to the bars and gazed
at the animal with the critical look of a con
"Not a hair that ain t black," he muttered.
"Black from ankle to ear; hoofs almost black,
black in th nostrils. Black horses generally
have brown eyes, but you can t even tell where
th pupil is in his!
"Say, VB, he makes th ace of spades look
like new snow, don t he?"
"He does that!" cried VB, and putting his
hands on the animal s back, he leaped lightly
up, sitting sidewise on the broad hips and playing
with the heavy tail.
"VB, I m a Lord, a thousand dollars for
a new oath!"
i 3 6 "_ I CONQUERED"
At VB s suggestion they started back to the
"Why, boy, you re limpin !" the old man
exclaimed. "An in both legs!" He stopped
and looked the young fellow over from hat to
heel. "One side of your face s all skinned.
Looks as though your left hand d all been smashed
up, it s that swelled. You move like your back
hurt, too like sin. VB?"
The boy stopped and looked down at the
ground. Then his eyes met those of the old
rancher, and Jed Avery understood he had
seen the bond between man and horse; he realized
what must have transpired between them.
And he knew the love that men can have for
animals, something which, if you have never felt
it, is far beyond comprehension. So he asked
just this question : How long ?
And VB answered: "Six days from dawn
till dark. One to get a halter on him, another
to get my hand on his head; three days in the
Scotch hobble, and the last to ride him like
a hand-raised colt."
Jed replaced his hat, pulling it low to hide his
"Ain t I proud to be your daddy?" he whis
An overwhelming pride a pride raised to
the nth degree, of the sort that is above the
understanding of most men was in the tone
timbre of the question.
A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE 137
They went on into the house.
"Jed," VB said, as though he had waited to
broach something of great import, "I ve written
a letter this morning, and I want to read it to
you, just to see how it sounds out loud."
He sat down in a chair and drew sheets of small
tablet paper toward him.
Jed, without answer, leaned against the table
and waited. VB read:
"Mv DEAR FATHER:
"I am writing merely to say that I know you were
right and I was wrong.
"I am in a new life, where men do big, real things
which justify their own existence. I am finding my
self. I am getting that perspective which lets me
see just how right you were and how wrong I was.
"Since coming here I have done something real. I
have captured and made mine the wildest horse that
ever ran these hills. I am frankly proud of it. I may
live to do things of more obvious greatness, but that
will be because men have had their sense of values
warped. For rne, this attainment is a true triumph.
"I am now in the process of taming another beast,
more savage than the one I have mastered, and possess
ing none of his noble qualities. It is a beast not of
the sort we can grapple with, though we can see it in
men. It is giving me a hard battle, but try to believe
that my efforts are sincere and, though it may take
my whole lifetime, I am bound to win in the end.
"This letter will be mailed in Kansas City by a
friend. I am many days travel from that point.
When I am sure of the other victory I shall let you
know where I am.
"Your affectionate son,"
i 3 8 " I CONQUERED"
He tossed the sheets back to the table top.
" I m going to get it over to Ant Creek and let
some of the boys take it to the river when they
go with beef," he explained. "Now, how does
"Fine, VB, fine!" Jed muttered, rubbing one
cheek. "To be sure, it ain t so much what you
say as th way you say it makin a party feel
as though you meant it from th bottom of your
feet to th tip of th longest hair on your head!"
"Well, Jed, I do mean it just that way. That
horse out there he he stands for so much
now. He stands for everything I have n t been,
and for all that I want to be. He ran free as the
birds, but it could n t always be so. He had to
succumb, had to give up that sort of liberty.
"I took his power from him, made him my
own, made him my servant. Yet it did n t
scathe his spirit. It has changed all that bitter
ness into love, all that wasted energy into doing
something useful. I didn t break him, Jed; I
converted him. Understand?"
I do, VB ; but we won t convert this here other
beast. We ll bust him wide open, won t we?
Break him, body an spirit!"
The boy smiled wanly.
"That s what we re trying to do."
He pointed to the candle in its daubed bottle.
"Just to keep the light burning, Jed just
to keep its light fighting back the darkness. The
little flame of that candle breaks the power of
A LETTER AND A NARRATIVE 139
the black thing which would shut it in like a
heart being good and true in spite of the rotten
body in which it beats. And when my body
commences to want the old things to want
them, oh, so badly I just think of this little
candle here, calm and quiet and steady, stick
ing out of what was once a cesspool, a poison
pot, and making a place in the night where men
While a hundred could have been counted
slowly they remained motionless, quiet, not a
sound breaking the silence.
Then Jed began talking in a half-tone:
"I know, Young VB; I know. You ve got
time now to light it and nurse th flame up so s
it won t need watchin an not miss things that
go by in th dark. Some of us puts it off too
long like a man I know now. I did n t
know him then when it happened. He was
wanderin around in a night that never turned to
day, thinkin he knowed where he was goin ,
but all th time just bein fooled by th dark.
"And there was a girl back in Kansas. He
started after her, but it was so dark he could n t
find th way, an when he did
"Some folks is fools enough to say women
don t die of broken hearts. But well, when a
feller knows some things he wants to go tell em
to men who don t know; to help em to under
stand, if he can ; to give em a hand if they do see
but can t find their way out "
i 4 o "__I CONQUERED"
He stopped, staring at the floor. VB had no
cause to search for identities.
From the corral came a shrill, prolonged neigh
ing. VB arose and laid a hand gently on Jed s
"That s the Captain," he said solemnly; "and
he calls me when he s thirsty."
While he was gone Jed remained as he had
been left, staring at the floor.
GAIL THORPE rose from the piano in the
big ranch house of the S Bar S, rearranged
the mountain flowers that filled a vase on a
tabouret, then knocked slowly, firmly, command-
ingly, on a door that led from the living room.
"Well, I don t want you; but I s pose you
might as well come in and get it off your mind!"
The voice from the other side spoke in feigned
annoyance. It continued to grumble until a
lithe figure, topped by a mass of hair like pulled
sunshine, flung itself at him, twining warm arms
about his neck and kissing the words from the
lips of big Bob Thorpe as he sat before his desk
in the room that served as the ranch office.
"Will you ever say it again that you don t
want me?" she demanded.
"No but merely because I m intimidated
into promising," he answered. His big arms went
tight about the slender body and he pulled his
daughter up on his lap.
A silence, while she fussed with his necktie.
Her blue eyes looked into his gray ones a moment
as though absently, then back to the necktie.
Her fingers fell idle; her head snuggled against
his neck. Bob Thorpe laughed loud and long.
i 4 2 "_I CONQUERED"
"Well, what is it this morning?" he asked
The girl sat up suddenly, pushed back the hair
that defied fastenings, and tapped a stretched
palm with the stiff forefinger of the other hand.
"I m not a Western girl," she declared delib
erately; and then, as the brown face before her
clouded, hastened: "Oh, I m not wanting to go
away! I mean, I m not truly a Western girl,
but I want to be. I want to fit better.
"When we decided that I should graduate and
come back here with my mommy and daddy for
the rest of my life, I decided. There was nothing
halfway about it. Some of the other girls
thought it awful; but I don t see the attraction
in their way of living.
"When I was a little girl I was a sort of torn-
cow-boy. I could do things as well as any of the
boys I ever knew could do them. But after
ten years, mostly away in the East, where girls
are like plants, I ve lost it all. Now I want to
get it back."
"Well, go to it!"
"Wait! I want to start well high up. I
want to have the best that there is to have.
I want a horse ! "
"Horse? Bless me, bambino, there are fifty
broken horses running in the back pasture now,
besides what the boys have on the ride. Take
"Oh, I know!" she said with gentle scoffing.
WOMAN WANTS 143
"That sort of a horse just cow-ponies. I love
em, but I guess well
"You ve been educated away from em, you
mei n?" he chuckled.
"Well, whatever it is I want something
better. I, as a daughter of the biggest, best man
in Colorado, want to ride the best animal that
ever felt a cinch."
"And I want to have him now, so I can get
used to him this fall and look forward to coming
back to him in the spring."
Bob Thorpe took both her hands in one of his.
"And if a thing like that will make my bambino
happy, I guess she ll have it."
The girl kissed him and held her cheek close
against his for a breath.
"When I go to Denver for the stock show I ll
pick the best blue ribbon
"Denver!" she exclaimed indignantly, sitting
straight and tossing her head. "I want a real
horse a horse bred and raised in these moun
tains a horse I can trust. None of your blue-
blooded stock. They re like the girls I went to
Bob Thorpe let his laughter roll out.
""Well, what do you expect to find around here?
Have you seen anything you like?"
She pulled her hands from his grasp and
stretched his mouth out of shape with her little
fingers until he squirmed.
144 "I CONQUERED"
"No, I haven t seen him; but I ve heard the
cowboys talking. Over at Mr. Avery s ranch
they ve caught a black horse "
Bob Thorpe set her suddenly up on the arm
of his chair and shook her soundly.
"Look here, young lady!" he exclaimed.
"You re dreaming! I know what horse you re
talking about. He s a wild devil that has run
these hills for years. I heard he d been caught.
Get the notion of having him out of your head.
I ve never seen him but once, and then he was
away off; but I ve heard tales of him. Why -
"Nonsense! In the first place, he couldn t
be broken to ride. Men are n t made big enough
to break the spirit of a devil like that! They re
bigger than humans. So we can end this d:3-
cussion in peace. It s impossible!"
"All right," Gail said sweetly. "I just let
you go on and get yourself into a corner. You
don t know what you re talking about. He has
been ridden. So there! I want him!"
He thrust her to one side, rose, and com
menced to pace the room, gesticulating wildly.
But it all came to the invariable end of such
discussions, and twenty minutes later Gail Thorpe,
her smoking, smiling dad at her side, piloted the
big touring car down the road, bound for Jed
Avery s ranch.
Young VB sat on a box behind the cabin work
ing with a boot-heel that insisted on running over.
WOMAN WANTS 145
He lifted the boot, held it before his face, and
squinted one eye to sight the effect of his work
then started at a cry from the road.
The boot still in his hands, VB stopped squint
ing to listen. Undoubtedly whoever it was
wanted Jed; but Jed was away with the horse
buyer, looking over his young stuff. So Young
VB, boot in hand, its foot clad in a service- worn
sock, made his uneven way around the house
to make any necessary explanations.
"That must be he!"
The light, high voice of the girl gave the cry
just as VB turned the corner and came in sight,
and her hand, half extended to point toward
the corral, pointed directly into the face of the
He did not hear what she had said, did not
venture a greeting. He merely stood and stared
at her, utterly without poise. In a crimson flash
he realized that this was Gail Thorpe, that she
was pretty, and that his bootless foot was covered
by a sock that had given way before the stress
of walking in high heels, allowing his great toe,
with two of its lesser conspirators, to protrude.
To his confusion, those toes seemed to be swelling
and for the life of him he could make them do
nothing but stand stiffly in the air almost at
right angles with the foot.
His breeding cried out for a retreat, for a leap
into shelter; but his wits had lost all grace.
He lifted the half -naked foot and carefully brushed
i 4 6 "_I CONQUERED"
the dirt from the sock. Then, leaning a shoulder
against the corner of the cabin, he drew the boot
on. Stamping it to the ground to settle his foot
into place, he said, "Good morning," weakly and
devoid of heartiness.
Bob Thorpe had not noticed this confusion, for
his eyes were on the corral. But Gail, a peculiar
twinkle in her eyes, had seen it all and with
quick intuition knew that it was something more
than the embarrassment of a cow-puncher and
struggled to suppress her smiles.
"Good afternoon," Thorpe corrected. "Jed
"No; he s riding," VB answered.
The cattleman moved a pace to the left and
tilted his head to see better the Captain, who
stormed around and around the corral, raising
a great dust.
"We came over to look at a horse I heard was
here this one, I guess. Is n t he the wild
"Used to be wild."
He looks it yet. Watch him plunge ! Thorpe
"He s never seen an automobile before," VB
explained, as the three moved nearer the corral.
The horse was frightened. He quivered when
he stood in one place, and the quivering always
grew more violent until it ended in a plunge.
He rose to his hind legs, head always toward
the car, and pawed the air; then settled back and
WOMAN WANTS 147
ran to the far side of the inclosure, with eyes
for nothing but that machine.
They halted by the bars, Thorpe and his
daughter standing close together, Young VB
nearer the gate. The boy said something to the
horse and laughed softly.
Why, look, daddy," the girl cried, "he s
beginning to calm down!"
The Captain stopped his antics and, still
trembling, moved gingerly to the bars. Twice
he threw up his head, looked at the machine, and
breathed loudly, and once a quick tremor ran
through his fine limbs, but the terror was no
longer on him.
Bob Thorpe turned a slow gaze on VB. The
girl stood with lips parted. A flush came under
her fine skin and she clasped her hands at her
"Oh, daddy, what a horse!" she breathed.
And Bob Thorpe echoed: "Lord, what a
horse! Anybody tried to ride him?" he asked
a moment later.
"He gets work every day," VB answered.
Work ? Don t tell me you work that animal !
The young chap nodded. "Yes; he works
The Captain snorted oudly and tore away in
a proud circle of the corral, as though to flaunt
"Oh, daddy, it took a man to break that
animal!" the girl breathed.
i 4 8 "_ I CONQUERED"
The bronze of VB s face darkened, then paled.
He turned a steady look on the sunny- haired
woman, and the full thanks that swelled in his
throat almost found words. He wanted to cry
out to her, to tell her what such things meant;
for she was of his sort, highly bred, capable of
understanding. And he found himself thinking:
"You are! You are! You re as I thought you
Then he felt Thorpe s gaze and turned to meet
it, a trifle guiltily.
"Yours?" the man asked.
Thorpe turned back to the Captain. Gail
drew a quick breath and turned away from him
to the man.
"I thought so when he commenced to quiet,"
He looked then at his daughter and found her
standing still, hands clasped, lips the least trifle
parted, gazing at Young VB.
Something in him urged a quick step forward.
It was an alarm, something primal in the fathers
of women. But Bob Thorpe put the notion
aside as foolishness or tenderness and walked
closer to the corral, chewing his cigar specula-
tively. The stallion wrinkled his nose and
dropped the ears flat, the orange glimmer coming
into his eyes.
"Don t like strangers, I see."
"Not crazy about them," VB answered.
WOMAN WANTS 149
Thorpe walked off to the left, then came back.
He removed his cigar and looked at Gail. She
fussed with her rebellious hair and her face was
flushed ; she no longer looked at the horse or
at VB. He felt a curiosity about that flush.
"Well, want to get rid of him?"
Thorpe hooked his thumbs in his vest arm-
holes and confronted VB.
"What do you want for him?"
The young fellow started.
What ? " he said in surprise. I was thinking.
I did n t catch your question."
The fact was, he had heard, but had distrusted
the sense. The idea of men offering money for
the Captain had never occurred to him.
"What do you want for him?"
"What do I want for him?" he repeated. "I
want feed and water for the rest of his life;
shelter when he needs it; the will to treat him as
he should be treated. And I guess that s about
The other again removed his cigar, and his
jaw dropped. A cow-puncher talking so! He
could not believe it ; and the idea so confused him
that he blundered right on with the bargaining.
"Five hundred? Seven-fifty? No? Well, how
VB smiled again, just an indulgent smile
prompted by the knowledge that he possessed a
i5o "_I CONQUERED"
thing beyond the power of even this man s wealth.
"The Captain is not for sale," he said. Not
to-day or ever. That s final.
There was more talk, but all the kindly bluff-
ness, all the desire instinctive in Bob Thorpe to
give the other man an even break in the bargain,
fell flat. This stranger, this thirty-five-dollar-a-
month ranch hand, shed his offers as a tin roof
sheds rain and with a self-possession characterized
by unmistakable assurance.
"Tell Jed I was over," the big man said as they
gave up their errand and turned to go. "And"
as he set a foot on the running board of his
car- "any time you re our way drop in."
"Yes, do!" added the girl, and her father could
not check the impulse which made him turn
halfway as though to shut her off.
JED returned that evening, worn by a hard
day s riding. He was silent. VB, too, was
quiet and they spoke little until the housework
was finished and Jed had drawn off his boots
preparatory to turning in.
Then VB said : Bob Thorpe was over to-day.
"Uh-huh; wanted to buy the Captain."
After a pause Jed commented: "That s nat
"Wanted me to give you the good word."
The old man walked through the doorway
into the little bunk room and VB heard him flop
into the crude bed.
A short interval of silence.
"Jed," called VB, "ever hear where his daughter
went to school?"
A long yawn. Then:
"Yep don t remember."
"She was over, too."
The boy felt himself flushing, and then sat bolt
upright, wondering soberly and seriously why it
should be so without reason.
i52 "_I CONQUERED"
Young VB slept restlessly that night. He
tossed and dreamed, waking frequently under a
sense of nervous tension, then falling back to
half-slumber once more. Thorpe came, and his
daughter, offering fabulous sums for the Captain,
which were stubbornly refused.
Then, shouting at the top of her voice, the girl
"But I will give you kisses for him! Surely
that is enough!"
And VB came back to himself, sitting up in
bed and wadding the blankets in his hands. He
blinked in the darkness and herded his scattered
senses with difficulty. Then the hands left off
twisting the covers and went slowly to his throat.
For the thirst was on him and in the morning he
rose in the grip of the same stifling desire, and his
quavering hands spilled things as he ate.
Jed noticed, but made no comment. When
the meal was finished he said:
"S pose I could get you to crawl up on the
Captain an take a shoot up Curley Gulch with
an eye out for that black mare an her yearlin ?"
VB was glad to be alone with his horse, and as
he walked to the corral, his bridle over his arm,
he felt as though, much as Jed could help him, he
could never bring the inspiration which the black
He opened the gate and let it swing wide.
The Captain came across to him with soft
nickelings, deserting the alfalfa he was munching.
VB FIGHTS 153
He thrust his muzzle into the crook of VB s
elbow, and the arm tightened on it desperately,
while the other hand went up to twine fingers
in the luxurious mane.
"Oh, Captain!" he muttered, putting his face
close to the animal s cheek. "You know what
it is to fight for yourself ! You know but where
you found love and help when you lost that
fight, I d find just blackness without even
The stallion moved closer, shoving with his
head until he forced VB out of the corral. Then
with his teasing lips he sought the bridle.
"You seem to understand!" the man cried,
his tired eyes lighting. "You seem to know
what I need!"
Five minutes later he was rushing through the
early morning air up the gulch, the Captain
bearing him along with that free, firm, faultless
stride that had swept him over those mountains
for so many long, unmolested years.
Throughout the forenoon they rode hard.
VB looked for the mare and colt, but the search
did not command much of his attention.
"Why can t I turn all this longing into some
thing useful?" he asked the horse. "Your lust
for freedom has come to this end; why can t my
impulses to be a wild beast be driven into another
And the Captain made answer by bending his
superb head and lipping VB s chap-clad knee.
154 "I CONQUERED"
The quest was fruitless, and an hour before
noon VB turned back toward the ranch, making
a short cut across the hills. In one of the gulches
the Captain nickered softly and increased his
trotting. VB let him go, unconscious of his
brisker movement, for the calling in his throat
had risen to a clamor. The horse stopped and
lowered his head, drinking from a hole into
which crystal water seeped.
The man dropped off and flopped on his stom
ach, thrusting his face into the pool close to the
nose of the greedily drinking stallion. He took
the water in great gulps. It was cold, as cold as
spring water can be, yet it was as nothing against
the fire within him.
The Captain, raising his head quickly, caught
his breath with a grunt, dragging the air deep
into his great lungs and exhaling slowly, loudly,
as he gazed off down the gulch; then he chewed
briskly on the bit and thrust his nose again into
VB s arm stole up and dropped over the horse s
"Oh, boy, you know what one kind of thirst
is," he said in a whisper. "But there s another
kind that this stuff won t quench! The thirst
that comes from being in blackness
They went on, dropped off a point, and made
for the fiat little buildings of the ranch. As he
approached, VB saw three saddled horses standing
VB FIGHTS 155
before the house, none of which was Jed s prop
erty. Nothing strange in that, however, for one
man s home is another s shelter in that country,
whether the owner be on the ground or not, and
to VB the thought of visitors brought relief.
Contact with others might joggle him from his
He left the Captain, saddled, at the corral gate,
bridle reins down, and he knew that the horse
would not budge so much as a step until told to
do so. Then he swung over toward the house,
heels scuffing the hard dirt, spurs jingling. At
the threshold he walked squarely into the man
The recognition was a distinct shock. He
stepped backward a pace recoiled rather, for
the movement was as from a thing he detested.
Into his mind crowded every detail of his former
encounters with this fellow; in the Anchor bunk
house and across the road from the saloon in
Ranger. They came back vividly the expres
sion of faces, lights and shadows, even odors,
and the calling in him for the help that throttles
Rhues misconstrued his emotion. His judg
ment was warped by the spirit of the bully, and
he thought this man feared him. He remem
bered that defiant interchange of questions, and
the laugh that went to VB on their first meeting.
He nursed the rankling memory. He had told
it about that Avery s tenderfoot was afraid to
156 "I CONQUERED"
take a drink speaking greater truth than he was
aware but his motive had been to discredit
VB in the eyes of the countrymen, for he belonged
to that ilk who see in debauchery the mark of
Coming now upon the man he had chosen to
persecute, and reading fear in VB s eyes, Rhues
was made crudely happy.
"You don t appear to be overglad to see us,"
VB glanced into the room. A Mexican sat
on the table, smoking and swinging his legs; a
white man he remembered having seen in Ranger
stood behind Rhues. Jed was nowhere about.
He looked back at the snaky leer in those half-
opened green eyes, and a rage went boiling into
his brain. The unmistakable challenge which
came from this bully was of the sort that strips
from men civilization s veneer.
"You ve gessed it," he said calmly. "I don t
know why I should be glad to see you. These
others" he motioned "are strangers to me."
Then he stepped past Rhues into the room.
The man grinned at him as he tossed his hat
to a chair and unbuckled the leather cuffs.
"But that makes no difference," he went on.
"Jed is n t here. It s meal time, and if you men
want to eat I ll build a big enough dinner."
Rhues laughed, and the mockery in his tone
was of the kind that makes the biggest of men
forget they can be above insult.
VB FIGHTS 157
"We did n t come here to eat," he said. "We
come up to see a horse we heerd about th
Captain. We heerd Jed caught him."
VB started. The thought of Rhues inspecting
the stallion, commenting on him, admiring him, was
as repulsive to Young VB as would be the thought
to a lover of a vile human commenting vulgarly
on the sacred body of the woman of women.
The Mexican strolled out of the house as VB,
turning to the stove, tried to ignore the explana
tion of their presence. He walked on toward the
ponies. A dozen steps from the house he stopped,
"Por Dios, hombre!"
Rhues and the other followed him, and VB saw
them stand together, staring in amazement at
the Captain. Then they moved toward the great
horse, talking to one another and laughing.
VB followed, with a feeling of indignation.
The trio advanced, quickening their pace.
"Hold on!" he cried in sudden alarm. "Don t
go too near; he s dangerous!"
Already the Captain had flattened his ears,
and as VB ran out he could see the nose wrinkling,
the lips drawing back.
"What s got into you?" demanded Rhues,
turning, while the Mexican laughed jeeringly. "I
guess if you can ride him a man can git up clost
without gittin chawed up! Remember, young
kid, we ve been workin with hosses sence you
was suckin yer thumb."
i S 8 " I CONQUERED"
The others laughed again, but VB gave no heed.
He was seeing red again ; reason had gone either
reason or the coating of conventions.
"Well, if you won t stand away from him
because of danger, you ll do it because I say so!"
"O-ho, an that s it!" laughed Rhues, walking
VB passed him and approached the Captain
and took his bridle.
"Be still, boy," he murmured. "Stand where
He stroked the nose, and the wrinkles left it.
Rhues laughed again harshly.
"Well, that s a fine kind o buggy horse!" he
jeered. "Let a tenderfoot come up an steal
all th man-eatin fire outen him!"
He laughed again and the others joined. The
Mexican said something in Spanish.
"Yah," assented Rhues. "I thought we was
comin to see a hoss th kind o nag this feller
pertended to be. But now look at him ! He s
just a low-down
VB sprang toward him.
You - he breathed, you you hound !
Why, you are n t fit to come into sight of this
horse. You you apologize to that horse!" he
demanded, and even through his molten rage the
words sounded unutterably silly.
Yet he went on, fists clenched, carried beyond
reason or balance by the instinctive hate for
VB FIGHTS 159
this man and love for the black animal behind him.
Rhues laughed again.
"Who says so, besides you, you . Why,
you ain t no more man n that hoss is hoss!"
He saw then that he had reckoned poorly.
The greenhorn, the boy who cowered at the
thought of a man s dissipation, had disappeared,
and in his stead stood a quivering young animal,
poising for a pounce.
Being a bully, Rhues was a coward. So when
VB sprang, and he knew conflict was unavoidable,
his right hand whipped back. The ringers closed
on the handle of his automatic as VB made
the first step. They made their hold secure as the
Easterner s arm drew back. They yanked at
the gun as that fist shot out.
It was a good blow, a clean blow, a full blow
right on the point of the chin, and, quickly as it
had been delivered, the right was back in an
instinctive guard and the left had rapped out hard
on the snarling mouth. Rhues went backward
and down, unbalanced by the first shock, crushed
by the second; and the third, a repeated jab of
the left, caught him behind the ear and stretched
him helpless in the dust.
His fingers relaxed their hold on the gun that
he had not been quick enough to use, so lightning-
like was the attack from this individual he had
dubbed a "kid." VB stepped over the pros
trate form, put his toe under the revolver, and
flipped it a dozen yards away.
160 "_I CONQUERED"
Then Jed A very pulled up his horse in a shower
of dust, and VB, his rage choking down words,
turned to lead the Captain into the corral. The
animal nosed him fiercely and pulled back to look
at Rhues, who, under the crude ministrations of
his two companions, had taken on a semblance
A moment later VB returned from the inclosure,
bearing his riding equipment. He said to Jed:
"This man insulted the Captain. I had to whip
him." Then he walked to the wagon shed,
dropped his saddle in its shelter, and came back.
Rhues sat up and, as VB approached, got to his
feet. He lurched forward as if to rush his enemy,
but the Mexican caught him and held him back.
VB stood, hands on hips, and glared at him.
He said: "No, I wouldn t come again if I were
you. I don t want to have to smash you again.
I d enjoy it in a way, but when a man is knocked
out he s whipped in my country judged by
the standards we set there.
"You re a coward, Rhues a dirty, sneaking,
low-down coward! Every gun-man is a coward.
It s no way to settle disputes gun righting."
He glared at the fellow before him, who swore
under his breath but who could not summon the
courage to strike.
"You re a coward, and I hope I ve impressed
that on you," VB went on, "and you ll take a
coward s advantage. Hereafter I m going to
carry a gun. You won t fight in my way because
VB FIGHTS 161
you re not a man, so I 11 have to be prepared for
you in your way. I just want to let you know
that I understand your breed! That s all.
"Don t start anything, because I ll fight in
two ways hereafter in my way and in yours.
And that goes for you other two. If you run
with this this thing, it marks you. I know
what would have happened if Jed had n t come
up. You d have killed me! That s the sort
you are. Remember all three of you I m
not afraid, but it s a case of fighting fire with
fire. I ll be ready."
Rhues stood, as though waiting for more.
When VB did not go on he said, just above a
whisper : I ll get you yet !
And VB answered, "Then I guess we all under
stand one another."
When the three had ridden away Jed shoved
his Colt tight into its holster again and looked
at the young chap with foreboding.
"There 11 be trouble, VB ; they re bad," he said.
"He s a coward. The story 11 go round an he ll
try to get you harder n ever. If he don t,
those others will will try, I mean. Matson and
Julio are every bit as bad as Rhues, but they
ain t quite got his fool nerve.
"They re a thievin bunch, though it ain t
never been proved. Nobody trusts em; most
men let em alone an wait fer em to show their
hand. They ve been cute; they ve been sus
pected, but they ain t never got out on a limb.
162 _! CONQUERED"
They ve got a lot to cover up, no doubt. But
they ve got a grudge now. An when cowards
carry grudges look out!"
"If a man like Rhues were all I had to fear, I
should never worry," VB muttered, weak again
after the excitement. "He s bad but there
are worse things that you can t have the
satisfaction of knocking down."
And his conspiring nostrils smelled whisky in
that untainted air.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE
YOUNG VB held a twofold interest for the
men of Clear River. First, the story of
his fight with the Captain spread over the land,
percolating to the farthest camps. Men laughed
at first. The absurdity of it! Then, their
surprise giving way to their appreciation of his
attainment, their commendation for the young
Easterner soared to superlatively profane heights.
When he met those who had been strangers
before it was to be scrutinized and questioned
and frankly, honestly admired.
Now came another reason for discussing him
about bunk-house stoves. He had thrashed
Rhues! Great as had been the credit accorded
VB for the capture of the stallion, just so great
was men s delight caused by the outcome of that
They remembered, then, how Rhues had told
of the greenhorn who was afraid to take a drink;
how he had made it a purpose to spread stories of
ridicule, doing his best to pervert the community s
natural desire to let the affairs of others alone.
And this recollection of Rhues s bullying was an
added reason for their saying : Good ! I m glad to
hear it. Too bad th kid did n t beat him to death ! "
164 " I CONQUERED"
Though his meetings with other men were few
and scattered, VB was coming to be liked. It
mattered little to others why he was in the country,
from where he came, or who he had been. He had
accomplished two worthy things among them, and
respect was accorded him across vast distances.
Dozens of these men had seen him only once, and
scores never, yet they reckoned him of their
number a man to be taken seriously, worthy
of their kindly attention, of their interest, and of
Bob Thorpe helped to establish VB in the
mountains. He thought much about his inter
view with the young chap, and told to a half-
dozen men the story which, coming from him,
His daughter did not abandon her idea of own
ing the Captain. Bob told her repeatedly that
it was useless to argue with a man who spoke
as did Jed s rider; but the girl chose to disagree
"I think that if you d flatter him enough if
we both would that he would listen. Don t
you?" she asked.
Bob Thorpe shook his head.
"No," he answered. "You can t convince
me of that. You don t know men, and I do.
I Ve seen one or two like him before who love
a thing of that sort above money; and, I ve found
you can t do a thing with em ding em!"
The girl cried: "Why, don t feel that way
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 165
about it ! I think it s perfectly fine to love an
animal so much that money won t buy him!"
"Sure it is," answered her father. "That s
what makes me out of patience with them.
They re they re better men than most of us,
and well, they make a fellow feel rather small
Then he went away, and Gail puzzled over his
A week to a day after her first visit she drove
again to Jed s ranch.
"I came over to see the Captain," she told
the old man gayly.
"Well, th Captain ain t here now," he an
swered, beaming on her; "but VB ll be back with
him before noon."
She looked for what seemed to be an unneces
sarily long time at her watch, and then asked:
"Is that his name?"
"What th Captain?"
Jed laughed silently at her.
Yep to be sure an that s his name all
th name he s got."
"Well, I wish Mr. VB would hurry back with
the Captain," she said.
But that easy flush was again in her cheeks,
and the turn she gave the conversation was, as
they say in certain circles, poor footwork.
Within an hour the Captain bore his rider home.
Gail stayed for dinner and ate with the two men.
i66 "_I CONQUERED"
It was a strange meal for VB. Not in months
had he eaten at the same table with a woman;
not in years had he broken bread with a woman
such as this, and realization of the fact carried
him back beyond those darkest days. He remem
bered suddenly and quite irrelevantly that he
once had wondered if this daughter of Bob
Thorpe s was to be a connecting link with the
old life. That had been when he first learned
that the big cattleman had a daughter, and that
she was living in his East. Now as he sat before
neglected food and watched and listened, feasting
his starved spirit on her, noting her genuine
vivacity, her enthusiasm, the quick come and go
of color in her fine skin, he knew that she was a
link, but not with the past that he had feared.
She took him back beyond that, into his earlier
boyhood, that period of adolescence when, to a
clean-minded boy, all things are good and un
stained. She was attractive in all the ways that
women can be attractive, and at the same time
she was more than a desirable individual; she
seemed to stand for classes, for modes of living
and thinking, that Young VB had put behind
him put behind first by his wasting, now by
distance. But as the meal progressed a fresh
wonder crept up in his mind. Was all that
really so very far away? Was not the distance
just that between them and the big ranch house
under the cotton woods beyond the hills? And
was the result of his wasting quite irreparable?
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 167
Was he not rebuilding what he had torn down?
He felt himself thrilling and longing suddenly
for fresher, newer experiences as the talk ran on
between the others. The conversation was wholly
of the country, and VB was surprised to discover
that this girl could talk intelligently and argue
effectively with Jed over local stock conditions
when she looked for all the world like any of the
hundreds he could pick out on Fifth Avenue at
five o clock of any fine afternoon. He corrected
himself hastily. She was not like those others,
either. She possessed all their physical endow
ments, all and more, for her eye was clearer, her
carriage better, she was possessed of a color that
was no sham; and a finer body. Put her beside
them in their own environment, and they would
seem stale by comparison ; bring those others
here, and their bald artificiality would be pathetic.
The boy wanted her to know those things, yet
thought of telling her never came to his conscious
ness. Subjectively he was humble before her.
The interest between the two young people was
not centered completely in VB. Each time he
lowered his gaze to his plate he was conscious of
those frank, intelligent blue eyes on him, study
ing, prying, wondering, a laugh ever deep within
them. Now and then the girl addressed a remark
to him, but for the most part she spoke directly
to Jed; however, she was studying the boy every
instant, quietly, carefully, missing no detail,
and by the time the meal neared its end the
168 "_ I CONQUERED"
laughter had left her eyes and they betrayed
a frank curiosity.
When the meal was finished the girl asked VB
to take her to the corral. She made the request
lightly, but it smote something in the man a
teriffic blow, stirring old memories, fresh desires,
and he was strangely glad that he could do some
thing for her. As they walked from the cabin
to the inclosure he was flushed, embarrassed,
awkward. He could not talk to her, could
scarcely keep his body from swinging from side
to side with schoolbo}^ shyness.
The stallion did not fidget at sight of the girl
as he had done on the approach of other strangers.
He snorted and backed away, keeping his eyes
on her and his ears up with curiosity, coming to
a halt against the far side of the corral and
switching his fine tail down over the shapely
hocks as though to make these people understand
that in spite of his seeming harmlessness he might
yet show the viciousness that lurked down in his
"I think he ll come to like you," said VB,
looking from his horse to the girl. "I don t see
how he could help it to like women, under
stand," he added hastily when she turned a wide-
eyed gaze on him. "He doesn t like strange
men, but see he s interested in you; and it s
curiosity, not anger. I I don t blame him
for being interested," he ventured, and hated him
self for the flush that swept up from his neck.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE i6g
They both laughed, and Gail said: "So this
country hasn t taken the flattery out of you?"
"Why, it s been years years since I said a
thing like that to a girl of your sort," VB an
An awkward pause followed.
"Dare I touch him?" the girl finally asked.
"No, I wouldn t to-day," VB advised. "Just
let him look at you now. Some other time we ll
see if That is, if you 11 ever come to see us
to see the Captain again."
"I should like to come to see the Captain very
much, and as often as is proper," she said with
And she did come again; and again and yet
again. Always she took pains to begin with
inquiries about the horse. When she did this
in Jed Avery s presence it was with a peculiar
avoidance of his gaze, that might have been from
embarrassment; when she asked Young VB those
questions it was with a queer little teasing smile.
A half-dozen times she found the boy alone at
the ranch, and the realization that on such occa
sions she stayed longer than she did when Jed
was about gave him a new thrill of delight.
At first there was an awkward reserve between
them, but after the earlier visits this broke down
and their talk became interspersed with personal
references, with small, inconsequential confidences
that, intrinsically worthless, meant much to them.
Yet there was never a word of the life both had
i 7 o _! CONQUERED"
lived far over the other side of those snowcaps
to the eastward. Somehow the girl felt intui
tively that it had not all been pleasant for the.
man there, and VB maintained a stubborn
reticence. He could have told her much of her
own life back in the East, of the things she liked,
of the events and conditions that were irksome,
because he knew the environment in which she
had lived and he felt that he knew the girl herself.
He would not touch that topic, however, for it
would lead straight to his life; and all that he
wanted for his thoughts now were Jed and the
hills and the Captain and this girl. They
composed a comfortable world of which he wanted
to be a part.
Gail found herself feeling strangely at home
with this young fellow. She experienced a min
gled feeling compounded of her friendship for the
finished youths she had known during school days
and that which she felt for the men of her moun
tains, who were, she knew, as rugged, as genuine,
as the hills themselves. To her Young VB rang
true from the ground up, and he bore the finish
that can come only from contact with many men.
That is a rare combination.
It came about that after a time the Captain
let Gail touch him, allowed her to walk about him
and caress his sleek body. Always, when she was
near, he stood as at attention, dignified and self-
conscious, and from time to time his eyes would
seek the face of his master, as though for
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 171
reassurance. Once after the girl had gone VB
took the Captain s face between his hands and,
looking into the big black eyes, muttered almost
"She s as much of the real stuff as you are, old
boy! Do you think, Captain, that I can ever
match up with you two?"
Before a month had gone by the girl could lead
the Captain about, could play with him almost
as familiarly as VB did; but always the horse
submitted as if uninterested, went through this
formality of making friends as though it were a
duty that bored him.
Once Dick Worth, the deputy from Sand Creek,
and his wife rode up the gulch to see the black
stallion. While the Captain would not allow the
man near him, he suffered the woman to tweak
his nose and slap his cheeks and pull his ears;
then it was that Jed and VB knew that the animal
understood the difference between sexes and that
the chivalry which so became him had been
cultivated by his intimacy with Gail Thorpe.
After that, of course, there was no plausible
excuse for Gail s repeated visits. However, she
continued coming. VB was always reserved up
to a certain point before her, never yielding beyond
it in spite of the strength of the subtle tactics she
employed to draw him out. A sense of uncer
tainty of himself held him aloof. Within him was
a traditional respect for women. He idealized
them, and then set for men a standard which they
172 "_I CONQUERED"
must attain before meeting women as equals.
But this girl, while satisfying his ideal, would
not remain aloof. She forced herself into VB s
presence, forced herself, and yet with a delicacy
that could not be misunderstood. She came
regularly, her visits lengthened, and one sunny
afternoon as they stood watching the Captain
roll she looked up sharply at the man beside her.
"Why do you keep me at this?"
"This? What? I don t get your meaning."
"At coming over here? Why don t you come
to see me ? I - Of course, I have n t any fine
horse to show you, but "
Her voice trailed off, with a hint of wounded
pride in the tone. The man faced her, stunning
surprise in his face.
"You you don t think I fail to value this
friendship of ours?" he demanded, rallying.
"You- Why, what can I say to you? It
has meant so much to me just seeing you; it s
been one of the finest things of this fine country.
But I thought I thought it was because of
this, "--with a gesture toward the Captain, who
stood shaking the dust from his hair with mighty
effort. "I thought all along you were interested
in the horse; not that you cared about knowing
"Did you really think that?" she broke in.
VB flushed, then laughed, with an abrupt change
"Well, it began that way," he pleaded weakly.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 173
"And you d let it end that way."
"Oh, no; you don t understand, Miss Thorpe,"
serious again. "I I can t explain, and you
don t understand now. But I ve felt somehow
as though it would be presuming too much if I
came to see you."
She looked at him calculatingly a long moment
as he twirled his hat and kicked at a pebble with
"I think it would be presuming too much if
you let me do all the traveling, since you admit
that a friendship does exist," she said lightly.
"Then the only gallant thing for me to do is to
call on you."
"I think so. I m glad you recognize the fact."
"When shall it be?"
"Any time. If I m not home, stay until I get
back. Daddy likes you. You ll love my mother."
The vague "any time" occurred three days
later. Young VB made a special trip over the
hills to the S Bar S. The girl was stretched in a
hammock, reading, when he rode up, and at the
sound of his horse she scrambled to her feet,
flushed, and evidently disconcerted.
"I d given you up!" she cried.
"In three days?" taking the hand she offered.
"Well most boys in the East would have
come the next morning if they were really
"This is Colorado," he reminded her.
He sat crosslegged on the ground at her feet,
i 7 4 "I CONQUERED"
and they talked of the book she had been reading.
It was a novel of music and a musician and a rare
achievement, she said. He questioned her about
the story, and their talk drifted to music, on
which they both could converse well.
"You don t know what it means to sit here and
talk of these things with you," he said hungrily.
"Well, I should like to know," she said, leaning
forward over her knees.
For two long hours they talked as they never
had talked before; of personal tastes, of kindred
enthusiasms, of books and plays and music and
people. They went into the ranch house, and
Gail played for him on the only grand piano
in that section of the state. They came out, and
she saddled her pony to ride part way back through
the hills with him.
"Adios, my friend," she called after him, as
he swung away from her.
"It s your turn to call now," he shouted back
to her, and when the ridge took him from sight
he leaned low to the Captain s ear and repeated
gently, - my friend !
So the barrier of reserve was broken. VB did
not dare think into the future in any connection
least of all in relation to this new and growing
friendship; yet he wanted to make their under
standing more complete though he would scarcely
admit that fact even to himself.
A week had not passed when Gail Thorpe drove
the automobile up to the VB gate.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 175
"I did n t come to see the Captain this time,"
she announced to them both. "I came to pay a
party call to Mr. VB, and to include Mr. Avery.
Because when a girl out here receives a visit
from a man it s of party proportions!"
As she was leaving, she asked, "Why don t you
come down to the dance Friday night?"
"A big event?"
"Surely!" She laughed merrily. "It s the
first one since spring, and everybody 11 be there.
Mr. Avery will surely come. Won t you, too,
He evaded her, but when she had turned the
automobile about and sped down the road,
homeward bound, he let down the bars for youth s
romanticism and knew that he would dance with
her if it meant walking every one of the twenty-two
miles to the schoolhouse.
For the first time in years VB felt a thrill at
the anticipation of a social function, and with it a
guilty little thought kept buzzing in the depths
of his mind. The thought was: Is her hair as
fragrant as it is glorious in color and texture?
Jed and VB made the ride after supper, over
frozen paths, for autumn had aged and the tang of
winter was in the air. Miles away they could
see the glow of the bonfire that had been built
before the little stone schoolhouse; and VB was
not sorry that Jed wanted to ride the last stages
of the trip at a faster pace.
176 "_I CONQUERED"
Clear River had turned out, to the last man
and woman and to the last child, too ! The
schoolhouse was no longer a seat of learning; it
was a festal bower. The desks had been taken
up and placed along the four walls, seats outward,
tops forming a ledge against the calcimined stones,
making a splendid place for those youngest
children who had turned out! Yes, a dozen
babies slumbered there in the confusion, wrapped
in many thicknesses of blankets.
Three lamps with polished reflectors were
placed on window ledges, and the yellow glare
filled the room with just sufficient brilliance to
soften lines in faces and wrinkles in gowns that
clung to bodies in unexpected places. The fourth
window ledge was reserved for the music a
phonograph with a morning-glory horn, a green
morning-glory horn that would have baffled a
botanist. The stove blushed as if for its plain
ness in the center of the room, and about it,
with a great scraping of feet and profound
efforts to be always gentlemanly and at ease,
circled the men, guiding their partners.
VB stood in the doorway and watched. He
coughed slightly from the dust that rose and
mantled everything with a dulling blanket
everything, I said, but the eyes must be excepted.
They flashed with as warm a brilliance as they
ever do where there is music and dancing and
The music stopped. Women scurried to their
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 177
seats; some lifted the edges of blankets and
peered with concerned eyes at the little sleepers
lying there, then whirled about and opened their
arms to some new gallant; for so brief was the
interval between dances.
"Well, are you never going to see me?"
VB started at the sound of Gail s voice so close
to him. He bowed and smiled at her.
I was interested, he said in excuse. Getting
She did not reply, but the expectancy in her face
forced his invitation, and they joined the swirl
about the stove.
"I can t dance in these riding boots," he
confided with an embarrassed laugh. "Never
thought about it until now."
"Oh, yes, you can! You dance much better
than most men. Don t stop, please!"
He knew that no woman who danced with
Gail s lightness could find pleasure in the stum
bling, stilted accompaniment of his handicapped
feet ; and the conviction sent a fresh thrill through
him. He was glad she wanted him to keep on!
She had played upon the man down in him and
touched upon vanity, one of those weak spots in
us. She wanted him near. His arm, spite of
his caution, tightened a trifle and he suddenly
knew that her hair was as fragrant as it should
be a heavy, rich odor that went well with its
other wealth ! For an instant he was a bit giddy,
but as the music came to a stop he recovered
178 "I CONQUERED"
himself and walked silently beside Gail to a seat.
After that he danced with the wife of a cattle
man, and answered absently her stammered
advances at communication while he watched the
floating figure of Gail Thorpe as it followed the
bungling lead of her father s foreman.
The end of the intermission found him with her
again. As they whirled away his movements
became a little quicker, his tongue a little looser.
It had been a long time since he had felt so gay.
He learned of the other women, Gail telling
him about them as they danced, and through the
thrill that her warm breath aroused he found
himself delighting in the individuality of her
expression, the stamping of a characteristic in his
mind by a queer little word or twisted phrase.
He discovered, too, that she possessed a penetrat
ing insight into the latent realities of life. The
red-handed, blunt, strong women about him, who
could ride with their husbands and brothers, who
could face hardships, who knew grim elementals,
became new beings under the interpretation of this
sunny-haired girl; took on a charm tinged with
pathos that brought up within VB a sympathy
that those struggles in himself had all but buried.
And the knowledge that Gail appreciated those
raw realities made him look down at her linger-
ingly, a trifle wonderingly.
She was of that other life the life of refine
ments in so many ways, yet she had escaped
its host of artificialities. She had lifted herself
THE SCHOOLHOUSE DANCE 179
above the people among whom she was reared;
but her touch, her sympathies, her warm human-
ness remained unalloyed! She was real.
And then, when he was immersed in this
appreciation of her, she turned the talk suddenly
to him. He was but slightly responsive. He put
her off, evaded, but he laughed ; his cold reluctance
to let her know him had ceased to be so stern,
and her determination to get behind his silence
As they stood in the doorway in a midst of
repartee she burst on him:
"Mr. VB, why do you go about with that awful
name? It s almost as bad as being branded."
He sobered so quickly that it frightened her.
"Maybe I am branded," he said slowly, and her
agile understanding caught the significance of his
tone. "Perhaps I m branded and can t use
another. Who knows?"
He smiled at her, but from sobered eyes.
Confused by his evident seriousness, she made
one more attempt, and laughed: "Well, if you
won t tell me who you are, won t you please tell
me what you are?"
The door swung open then, and on the heels of
her question came voices from without. One
voice rose high above the rest, and they heard:
"Aw, come on; le s have jus one more little drag
at th bottle!"
VB looked at Gail a bit wildly.
Those words meant that out there whisky was
i8o "_I CONQUERED"
waiting for him, and at its mention that searing
thing sprang alive in his throat!
"What am I?" he repeated dully, trying to
rally himself. "What am I?" Unknowingly
his fingers gripped her arm. "Who knows?
I don t!"
And he flung out of the place, wanting but one
thing to be with the Captain, to feel the stal
lion s nose in his arms, to stand close to the body
which housed a spirit that knew no defeat.
As he strode past the bonfire a man s face leered
at him from the far side. The man was Rhues.
T > HE incident at the schoolhouse was not
- overlooked. Gail Thorpe was not the only
one who heard and saw and understood; others
connected the mention of drink with VB s sudden
departure. The comment went around in whis
pers at the dance, to augment and amplify those
other stories which had arisen back in the Anchor
bunk house and which had been told by Rhues
of the meeting in Ranger.
"Young VB is afraid to take a drink," declared
a youth to a group about the fire where they
discussed the incident.
He laughed lightly and Dick Worth looked
sharply at the boy.
"Mebby he is," he commented, reprimand in
his tone, "an mebby it d be a good thing for some
o you kids if you was afraid. Don t laugh at
him ! We know he s pretty much man cause
he s done real things since comin in here a rank
greenhorn. Don t laugh ! You ought to help,
instead o that."
And the young fellow, taking the rebuke,
admitted: "I guess you re right. Maybe the
booze has put a crimp in him."
So VB gave the community one more cause for
i8 2 "_I CONQUERED"
watching him. Quick to perceive, ever taking
into consideration his achievements which spoke
of will and courage, Clear River gave him silent
sympathy, and promptly put the matter out of
open discussion. It was no business of theirs so
long as VB kept it to himself. Yet they watched,
knowing a fight was being waged and guessing at
the outcome, the older and wiser ones hoping
while they guessed.
When Bob Thorpe announced to his daughter
that he was going to Jed Avery s ranch and
would like to have her drive him over through
the first feathery dusting of snow, a strain of
unpleasant thinking which had endured for three
days was broken for the girl. In fact, her relief
was so evident that the cattleman stared hard at
"You re mighty enthusiastic about that place,
seems to me," he remarked.
"Why should n t I be?" she asked. "There s
where they keep the finest horse in this country!"
"Is that all?" he asked, a bit grimly.
She looked at him and laughed. Then, coming
close, she patted one of the weathered cheeks.
"He s awfully nice, daddy and so myste
The giggle she forced somehow reassured him.
He did not know it was forced.
They arrived at Jed s ranch as Kelly, the
horse buyer, was preparing to depart after long
weeks in the country. His bunch was in the
lower pasture and two saddle horses waited at the
Thorpe and his daughter found Jed, VB, and
Kelly in the cabin. The horse buyer was just
putting bills back into his money belt, and Jed
still fingered the roll that he had taken for his
"Aren t you afraid to pack all that around,
Kelly?" Thorpe asked.
"No nobody holds people up any more," he
laughed. "There s only an even six hundred
there, anyhow and a fifty-dollar bill issued by
the Confederate States of America, which I carry
for luck. My father was a raider with Morgan,"
he explained, "and I was fifteen years old before
I knew damn Yank was two words!"
VB was preparing to go with the buyer, to ride
the first two days at least to help him handle
the bunch. They expected to make it well out
of Ranger the second day, and after that Kelly
would pick up another helper.
Gail followed VB when he went outside.
"I m going away, too," she said.
"Yes; mother and I will leave for California
day after to-morrow, for the winter."
"That will be fine!"
"Will I be missed?"
He shrank from this personal talk. He
remembered painfully their last meeting. He
was acutely conscious of how it had ended, and
184 "__I CONQUERED"
knew that the incident of his abrupt departure
must have set her wondering.
"Yes," he answered, meeting her answer
truthfully, "I shall miss you. I like you."
Such a thing from him was indeed a jolt, and
Gail stooped to pick up a wisp of hay to cover her
"But I m sorry," he said, "I must be going."
She looked up in surprise. The horse buyer
still talked and the discussion bade fair to go on
for a long time.
"You re not starting?" she asked.
"Oh, no. Not for half an hour, anyhow. But
you see, the Captain found a pup-hole yesterday
and wrenched his leg a little. Not much, but
I don t want him to work when anything s wrong.
So I m leaving him behind and I must look after
him. Will you excuse me? Good-by!"
She was so slow in extending her hand that he
was forced to reach down for it. It was limp
within his, and she merely mumbled a response
to his hasty farewell.
Gail watched him swing off toward the corral,
saw him enter through the gate and put his
face against the stallion s neck. She strolled
toward the car, feet heavy.
He would n t even ask me to go go with him.
He cares more about that horse than "
She clenched her fists and whispered: "I
hate you! I hate you!" Then mounting to the
seat and tucking the robe about her ankles, she
blew her nose, wiped her eyes, and in a voice
strained high said: "No, I don t, either."
VB and Kelly took their bunch down the gulch
at a spanking trot. Most of the stock was fairly
gentle and they had little difficulty. They planned
to stop at a deserted cabin a few miles north
of Ranger where a passable remnant of fenced
pasture still remained. They reached the place
at dark and made a hasty meal, after which
VB rolled in, but his companion roped a fresh
horseand made on to Ranger for a few hours
It was nearly dawn when Kelly returned with a
droll account of the night s poker, and although
VB was for going on early, wanting to be rid of
the task, the other insisted on sleeping.
"I don t want to get too far, anyhow," he
said. Those waddies like to rimmed me last
night. Got all I had except what s in old Betsy,
the belt. I m goin back to-night and get their
It was noon before they reached Ranger and
swung to the east.
Oh, I 11 be back to-night and get you fellows ! "
Kelly called to a man who waved to him from the
VB held his gaze in the opposite direction. He
knew that even the sight of the place might raise
the devil in him again.
A man emerged from one of the three isolated
shacks down on the river bank. It was Rhues.
186 "_I CONQUERED"
The two rode slowly, for the buyer was in no
mood for fast travel, and for a long time Rhues
stood there following them with his eyes.
At dusk the horsemen turned the bunch into a
corral and prepared to spend the night with beds
spread in the ruin of a cabin near the inclosure.
Before the bed-horses had been relieved of their
burdens a cowboy rode along who was known to
Kelly, and arrangements were made for him to
take VB s place on the morrow.
"Well, then, all you want me to do is to stay
here to-night to see that things don t go wrong.
Is that it?" VB asked.
"Yep Oh, I don t know," with a yawn.
"I guess I won t sit in that game to-night. I ll
get some sleep. Mebby if I did go back I d only
have to dig up part of my bank here." He
patted his waist. "You can go on home if you
VB was glad to be released, for he could easily
reach the ranch that night. He left Kelly talking
with the cowboy, making their plans for the next
day, and struck across the country for Jed s ranch.
Left alone, the horse buyer munched a cold
meal. Then, shivering, he crept into his thick
bed and slept. An hour passed two three.
A horse dropped slowly off a point near the
corral. A moment later two more followed.
One rider dismounted and walked away after a
low, hoarse w r hisper; another pushed his horse
into the highway and stood still, listening; the
third held the pony that had been left riderless.
A figure, worming its way close to the ground,
crawled up on the sleeping horse buyer. It
moved silently, a yard at a time; then stopped,
raised its head as though to listen; on again,
ominously, so much a part of the earth it covered
that it might have been just the ridge raised by
a giant mole burrowing along under the surface.
It approached to within three yards of the sleep
ing man; to within six feet; three; two.
Then it rose to its knees slowly, cautiously,
silently, and put out a hand gently, lightly feeling
the outlines of the blankets. A shoot of orange
scorched the darkness and another, so close
together that the flame was almost continuous.
The blankets heaved, trembled, settled.
The man on his knees hovered a long moment,
revolver ready, listening intently. Not a sound
even the horses seemed to be straining their ears
for another break in the night.
The man reached out a hand and drew the
blankets away from the figure beneath, thrusting
his face close. The starlight filtered in and he
drew a long, quivering breath not in hate
or horror, but in surprise. He got to his feet
and listened again. Then he moved into the
open, over the way he had come. After a dozen
quick, stealthy paces he stopped and turned back.
He unbuttoned the jumper about the figure
under the blankets, unbuttoned the shirt, felt
i83 " I CONQUERED"
quickly about the waist, fumbled a moment, and
jerked out a long, limp object. Again he strode
catlike into the open, and as he went he tucked
the money belt into his shirt-front.
VB rode straight to the ranch. He made a
quick ride and arrived before ten.
"Mighty glad Kelly got that man," he told
Jed. "I m. like a fish out of water away from
At dusk the next day a horseman rode up the
gulch to Jed s outfit. The old man stood in the
doorway, watching him approach.
"Hello, Dick!" he called, recognizing the deputy
from Sand Creek.
"How s things, Jed?"
" Better n fine."
Worth left his horse and entered the cabin.
"VB around?" he asked.
"Uh-huh; out in th corral foolin with th
Dick dropped to a chair and pushed his hat
back. He looked on the other a moment, then
asked : What time did VB get home last night ?
Jed showed evident surprise, but answered:
"Between half -past nine an ten."
"Notice his horse?"
"Saw him this mornin . Why?"
"Was it a hard ride th boy made?"
"No sure not. I rode th pony down to
th lower pasture myself this afternoon."
Worth drew a deep breath and smiled as though
"Bein n officer is mighty onpleasant some
times," he confessed. "I knew it wasn t no
use to ask them questions, but I had to do it
cause I m a deputy." With mouth set, Jed
waited for the explanation he knew must come.
"Kelly was killed while he slept last night."
Horror was the first natural impulse for a
man to experience on the knowledge of such a
tragedy, but horror did not come to Jed Avery
then or for many minutes. He put out a hand
slowly and felt for the table as though dizzy.
Then, in a half tone, "You don t mean you sus
pected VB ? Dick Dick!
The sheriff s face became troubled.
"Jed, didn t I tell you I knew it wasn t no
use to ask them questions?" he said reassuringly.
"I d a gambled my outfit on th boy, cause I
know what he is. When you tell me he got here
by ten an it was n t a hard ride, I know they s
no use even thinkin about it. But th fact is
"You see, Jed, everybody in th country has
got to know what s up with VB. They know
he s fightin back th booze! That gang o
skunks down at Ranger Rhues an his outfit -
started out to rub it into VB, but everybody
knew they was tellin lies. An everybody s
thought lots of him fer th fight he s made."
He got to his feet and walked slowly about the
igo "_I CONQUERED"
"But th truth is, Jed an you know it
when a man s been hittin th booze, an we
ain t sure he s beat it out, we re always lookin
fer him to slip. Nobody down at Ranger has
thought one word about VB in this, only that
mebby he could tell who d been round there.
"But, bein n officer, I had th sneakin , dirty
idee I ought to ask them questions about VB.
That s all there is to it, Jed. That s all! I m
deputy; VB s been a boozer.
But I tell you, Jed A very, it sure s a relief
to know it s all right."
The warmth of sincerity was in his tone and his
assurances had been of the best, but Jed slumped
limply into a chair and rested his head on his hands.
"It s a rotten world, Dick a rotten, rotten
world!" he said. "I know you re all right; I
know you mean what you say; but ain t it a
shame that when a man s down our first thought
is to kick him? Always expect him to fall again
once he gets up! Ain t it rotten?"
And his love for Young VB, stirred anew by
this sense of the injustice of things, welled into
his throat, driving back more words.
Dick Worth was a man of golden integrity;
Jed knew well that no suspicion would be cast
on VB. But the knowledge that serious-minded,
clear-thinking men like the deputy would always
remember, in a time like this, that those who had
once run wild might fall into the old ways at any
hour, stung him like a lash.
VB opened the door.
"Hello, Dick!" he greeted cheerily. "Want
Worth laughed and Jed started.
"No; I come up to get a little help from you
if I can, though."
"Kelly was shot dead in his bed last night."
For a moment VB stared at him.
"That s what we don t know. That s what I
came up here for to see if you could help us."
And Jed, face averted, drew a foot quickly
across the boards of the floor.
One of Hank Redden s boys was with him
th one who took your place until dark. Little
after eight old Hank heard two shots, but did n t
think nothin of it. Kelly was shot twice.
That must a been th time."
VB put down his hat, his eyes bright with
"He d planned to go back to Ranger," he said.
"But, after being up most of the night before,
he was too tired. He told them at Ranger he d
be back. And if I d been there they d have got
me," he ended.
"Unless they was lookin for Kelly especial,"
said Dick. "They took his money belt."
"Mebby," muttered Jed, "mebby they made
THE CANDLE BURNS
TIME went on, and the country dropped
back from the singing pitch of excitement
to which the killing of the horse buyer raised it.
Men agreed that some one of thac country had
fired the shots into that blanket, but it is not a
safe thing to suspect too openly. Dick Worth
worked continually, but his efforts were without
result. A reward of two hundred and fifty
dollars for the slayer, dead or alive, disclosed
After the evidence had been sifted, and each
man had asked his quota of questions and passed
judgment on the veracity of the myriad stories,
Dick said to himself: "We ll settle down now
and see who leaves the country."
Jed and VB went about the winter s work in
a leisurely way. For days after the visit of
Worth the old man was quieter than usual. The
realization of how the world looked on this young
fellow he had come to love had been driven in
upon him. There could be no mistaking it; and
as he reasoned the situation out, he recognized
the attitude of men as the only logical thing to
With his quietness came a new tenderness, n
THE CANDLE BURNS 193
deeper devotion. The two sat, one night, listen
ing to the drawing of the stove and the whip
of the wind as it sucked down the gulch.
The candle burned steadily in its bottle. Jed
watched it a long time, and, still gazing at the
steady flame, he said, as though unconscious that
thoughts found vocal expression: "Th candle s
burnin bright, VB."
The other looked slowly around at it and
"Yes, Jed; it surely burns bright."
At the instant an unusually vicious gust of
wind rattled the windows and a vagrant draft
caught the flame of the taper, bending it low,
dulling its orange.
"But yet sometimes," the younger man went
on, "something comes along something that
makes it flicker that takes some of the assur
ance from it."
Jed had started in his chair as the flame bowed
before the draft.
"But it You ain t been flickerin lately,
have you?" he asked, with a look in the old eyea
that was beseeching.
Young VB rose and commenced to walk about
thumbs hooked in his belt.
"I don t know, Jed," he said. "That s th
whole of it: I don t know. Sometimes I m gla<*
I don t ; but other times I wish wish tha
whatever is coming would come. I seem to bt.
gaining; I can think of drink now without going
i 9 4 "I CONQUERED"
crazy. Now and then it gets hold of me; but
moving around and getting busy stifles it. Still,
I know it s there. That s what counts. I know
I ve had the habit, been dow r n and out, and
there s no telling which way it s going to turn.
If I could ever be sure of myself; if I could ever
come right up against it, where I needed a drink,
where I wanted it then, if I could refuse,
I d be sure."
He quickened his stride.
"Seems to me you re worryin needless," Jed
argued. "Don t you see, VB, this is th worst
night we ve had; th worst wind. An yet it
ain t blowed th candle out! It bends low an
gets smoky, to be sure. But it always keeps
on shinin !"
"But when it bends low and gets smoky its
resistance is lower," VB said. "It wouldn t
take much at such a time to blow it out and let
the darkness come in. You never can tell, Jed;
you never can tell."
Ten minutes later he added : Especially when
you re afraid of yourself and dare n t hunt out
Another time they talked of the man that he
had been before he came to Colt. They were
riding the hills, the Captain snuggling close to the
pinto pony Jed rode. The sun poured its light
down on the white land. Far away, over on the
divide, they could see huge spirals of snow picked
up by the wind and carried along countless miles,
GREAT MOMENTS 203
black s head and laughed happily into the soft
"VB, you re a fool a silly fool!" he whis
But if it was so, if being a fool made him that
happy, he never wanted to regain mental balance.
It was a big evening for VB, perhaps the biggest
of his life. Bob Thorpe and his family ate with
the men. Democracy unalloyed was in his soul.
He mingled with them not through condescension,
but through desire, and his family maintained
the same bearing. Not a cow-puncher in the
country but who respected Mrs. Thorpe and
Gail and would welcome an opportunity to fight
The men had finished their meal before VB
and Jed entered. Mrs. Thorpe made excuses
and went out, leaving the four alone. While
Jed talked to her father, Gail, elbows on the
table, chatted with VB, and Young VB could
only stare at his plate and snatch a glance at
her occasionally and wonder why it was that
she so disturbed him.
Later Bob took Jed into his office, and when
Gail and VB were left alone the constraint be
tween them became even more painful. Try as
he would, the man could not bring his scattered
wits together for coherent speech. Just being
beside that girl after her long absence was intoxi
cating, benumbing his mind, stifling in him all
thought and action, creating a thralldom which
204 "I CONQUERED"
was at once agony and peace. An intuitive
sensing of this helplessness had made him delay
seeing her that evening; now that he was before
her he never wanted to leave; he wanted only to
sit and listen to her voice and watch the alert
expressiveness of her face a mute, humble
And this attitude of his forced a reaction on
the girl. At first she talked vivaciously, starting
each new subject with an enthusiasm that seemed
bound to draw him out, but when he remained
dumb and helpless in spite of her best efforts
to keep the conversation going, her flow of words
lagged. Long, wordless intervals followed, and
a flush came into the girl s cheeks, and she too
found herself woefully self-conscious. She sought
for the refuge of diversion.
"Since you won t talk to me, Mr. VB," she
said with an embarrassed laugh, "you are going
to force me to play for you."
"It isn t that I won t I can t," he stanr
mered. "And please play."
He sat back in his chair, relieved, and watched
the fine sway of her body as she made the big v
full-toned instrument give up its soul. Music,
that not the tunes that most girls of his
acquaintance had played for him; a St. Saens
arrangement, a MacDowell sketch, a bit of Nevin,
running from one theme into another, easily,
naturally, grace everywhere, from the phrasing
to the movements of her firm little shoulders.
GREAT MOMENTS 205
And VB found his self-possession returning, found
that he was thinking evenly, sanely, under the
quieting influence of this music.
Then Gail paused, sitting silent before the
keyboard, as though to herald a coming climax.
She leaned closer over the instrument and struck
into the somber strains of a composition of such
grim power and beauty that it seemed to create
for itself an oddly receptive attitude in the man,
sensitizing his emotional nature to a point where
its finest shades were brought out in detail. It
went on and on through its various phases to
the end, and on the heavy final chord the girl s
hands dropped into her lap. For a moment she sat
still bent toward the keyboard before turning to
him. When she did face about her flush was gone.
She was again mistress of the situation and said:
"Well, are you ever going to tell me about
VB s brows were drawn, and his eyes closed,
but before he opened them to look at her a
peculiar smile came over his face.
"That man Chopin, and his five-flat prelude
he said, and stirred with a helpless little gesture
of one hand as though no words could convey
the appreciation he felt.
"I wonder if you like that as well as I do?"
He sat forward in his chair and looked hard at
her. The constraint was wholly gone; he was
seriously intent, thinking clearing, steadily now.
2o6 "__I CONQUERED"
"I used to hear it many times," he said slowly,
"and each time I ve heard it, it has meant more
to me. There s something about it, deep down,
covered up by all those big tones, that I never
could understand until now. I guess," he
faltered, "I guess I ve never realized how much
a man has to suffer before he can do a big thing
like that. Something about this," -with a
gesture of his one hand, "this house and these
hills, and what I ve been through out here, and
the way you play, helps me to understand what
an accomplishment like that must have cost."
She looked at him out of the blue eyes that had
become so grave, and said:
"I guess we all have to suffer to do big things;
but did you ever think how much we have to
suffer to appreciate big things?"
And she went on talking in this strain with a
low, even voice, talking for hours, it seemed, while
VB listened and wondered at her breadth of view,
her sympathy and understanding,
She was no longer a little, sunny-haired girl, a
bit of pretty down floating along through life.
Before, he had looked on her as such; true, he
had known her as sympathetic, balanced, with a
keen appreciation of values. But her look, her
tone, her insight into somber, grim truths came
out with emphasis in the atmosphere created
by that music, and to Young VB, Gail Thorpe
had become a woman.
A silence came, and they sat through it with
GREAT MOMENTS 207
that ease which comes only to those who are in
harmony. No constraint now, no flushed faces,
no awkward meeting of eyes. The new under
standing which had come made even silence
eloquent and satisfying.
Then the talk commenced, slowly at first,
gradually quickening. It was of many things -
of her winter, of her days in the East, of her
friends. And through it Gail took the lead,
talking as few women had ever talked to him
before; talking of personalities, yet deviating
from them to deduce a principle here, apply a
maxim there, and always showing her humanness
by building the points about individuals and the
circumstances which surround them.
"Don t you ever get lonely here?" he asked
abruptly, thinking that she must have moments
of discontent in these mountains and with these
"No. Why should I?"
"Well, you ve been used to things of a different
sort. It seems to be a little rough for a girl
"And why shouldn t a nicer community be
too fine for a girl like me? " she countered. "I m
of this country, you know. It s mine."
"I hadn t thought of that. You re different
from these people, and yet," he went on, "you re
not like most women outside, either. You ve
seemed to combine the best of the two extremes.
208 "_I CONQUERED"
He looked up to see her gazing at him with a
light of triumph in her face. VB never knew, but
it was that hour for which she had waited months,
ever since the time when she declared to her
father, with a welling admiration for the spirit
he must have, that he who broke the Captain
was a man.
Here he was before her, talking personalities,
analyzing her! Four months before he would
not even linger to say good-by! Surely the spell
of her womanhood was on him.
"Oh!" she cried, bringing her hands together.
"So you ve been thinking about me what
sort of a girl I am, have you?"
Her eyes were aflame with the light of conquest.
Then she said soberly: "Well, it s nice :o
have people taking you seriously, anyhow."
"That s all any of us want," he answered her;
"to be taken seriously, and to be worthy of com
manding such an attitude from the people about
us. Sometimes we don t realize it until we ve
thrown away our best chances and then well,
maybe it s too late."
On the words he felt a sudden misgiving, a
sudden waning of faith. And, bringing confusion
to his ears, was the low voice of this girl- woman
saying: "I understand, VB, I understand. And
it s never too late to mend!"
Her hand lay in her lap, and almost uncon
sciously he reached out for it. It came to meet
his, frankly, quickly, and his frame was racked
GREAT MOMENTS 209
by a great, dry sob which came from the depths
of his soul.
"Oh, do you understand, Gail?" he whispered
doubtfully. "Can you without knowing?"
He had her hands in both his and strained
forward, his face close to hers. The small, firm
fingers clutched his hardened ones almost des
perately and the blue eyes, so wide now, looking
at him so earnestly, were filmed with tears.
"I think I ve understood all along," she said,
keeping her voice even at the cost of great effort.
"I don t know it all the detail, I mean. I
don t need to. I know you ve been fighting,
VB, nobly, bravely. I know
He rose to his feet and drew her up with him,
pulling her close to him, closer and closer. One
arm slipped down over her shoulders, uncer
tainly, almost timidly. His face bent toward hers,
slowly, tenderly, and she lifted her lips to meet it.
It was the great moment of his life. Words were
out of place; they would have been puerile, dis
turbing sounds, a mockery instead of an agency
to convey an idea of the strength of his emotions.
He could feel her breath on his cheek, and for an
instant he hung above her, delaying the kiss,
trembling with the tremendous passion within him.
And then he backed away from her awk
wardly, threatening to fall, a limp hand raised
toward the girl as though to warn her off.
"Oh, Gail, forgive me!" he moaned. "Not
yet! Great God, Gail, I m not worthy!"
210 "_I CONQUERED"
His hoarse voice mounted and he stood backed
against the far wall, fists clenched and stiff arms
upraised. She took a faltering step toward him.
Don t ! she begged. You are you -
But he was gone into the night, banging the
door behind him, while the girl leaned against
her piano and let the tears come.
He was not worthy! He loved; she knew he
loved; she had come to meet that great binding,
enveloping emotion willingly, frank with the joy
of it, as became her fine nature. Then he had
run from her, and for her own sake! All the
ordeals he had been through in those last months
were as brief, passing showers compared with the
tempest that raged in him as he rode through the
night; and it continued through the hours of light
and of darkness for many days. Young VB was
a man who feared his own love, and beyond that
there can be no greater horror.
He sought solace in the Captain, in driving
himself toward the high mark he had set out to
attain, but the ideal exemplified in the noble
animal seemed more unattainable than ever and
he wondered at times if the victory he sought
were not humanly impossible. The knowledge
that only by conquering himself could he keep
his love for Gail Thorpe unsullied never left him,
and beside it a companion haunter stalked through
and through his consciousness the fact that
they had declared themselves to each other. He
was carrying not alone the responsibility of
GREAT MOMENTS 211
reclaiming his own life; he must also answer for
the happiness of a woman!
In those days came intervals when he wondered
if this thing were really love. Might it not be
something else a passing hysteria, a reaction
from the inner battle? But he knew it was a
love stronger than his will, stronger than his
great tempter, stronger than the prompting to
think of the future when he saw the Thorpe
automobile coming up the road that spring day
on the first trip the girl had made to the ranch
that year. And under the immense truth of the
realization he became bodily weak.
Doubt of his strength, too, became more real,
more insistent than it had ever been; its hateful
power mingled with the thirst, and his heart
was rent. What if that love should prove
stronger than this discretion which he had re
tained at such fearful cost, and drag him to her
with the stigma he still bore and wreck her!
Gail saw the constraint in him the instant she
left the car, and though their handclasp was firm
and long and understanding, it sobered her smile.
She tried to start him talking on many things
as they sat alone in the log house, but it was
useless. He did not respond. So, turning to the
subject that had always roused him, that she
knew to be so close to his heart, she asked for
"In the corral," said VB, almost listlessly.
"We ll go out."
212 "__I CONQUERED"
So they went together and looked through the
gate at the great animal. The Captain stepped
close and stretched his nose for Gail to rub,
pushing gently against her hand in response.
"Oh, you noble thing!" she whispered to him.
"When you die, is all that strength of yours to
be w r asted? Can t it be given to some one else?"
She looked full on VB, then down at the ground,
and said : "You ve never told me how you broke
the Captain. No one in the country knows.
They know that he almost killed you; that you
fought him a whole week. But no one knows
how. Won t won t you tell me? I want to
know, because it was a real achievement and
He met her gaze when it turned upward, and
for many heartbeats they stood so, looking at each
other. Then VB s eyes wavered and he moved
a step, leaning on the bars and staring moodily
at the stallion.
"It hurts to think about it," he said. "I
don t like to remember. That is why I have never
told any one. It hurt him and it hurt me."
She waited through the silence that followed
Jor him to go on.
"I ve worked and rubbed it and curried it,
and nursed the hair to grow over the place. It
tooks just like a cinch mark now like the mark
of service. No one would ever notice. But it
is n t a mark of labor. I marked the Captain -
I had to do it had to make him understand
GREAT MOMENTS 213
me. It laid his side open, and all the nursing,
all the care I could give would n t make up for
it. It s there. The Captain knows it; so do I."
She followed his gaze to the little rough spot
far down on the sleek side.
"All wild things have to be broken," she said.
"None of them ever become tame of their own
volition. And in the breaking a mark is invari
ably left. The memory hurts, but the mark
means nothing of itself, once it is healed. Don t
you realize that?
"We all bear marks. The marks of our envi
ronment, the marks of our friends, the marks of
those we we love. Some of them hurt for a
time, but in the end it is all good. Don t you
believe that? We see those who are very dear
to us suffer, and it marks us; sometimes just
loving leaves its mark. But those are the
greatest things in the world. They re sacred.
"The marks on a woman who goes through
fire for a man, say ; the marks of a a mother.
They hurt, but in the end they make the bond
tighter, more holy."
She waited. Then asked again: "Don t you
After a long pause VB answered in a peculiarly
bitter voice: "I wish I knew what I believe
if I do believe!"
VB S eyes burned after Gail as she drove away.
He followed the car in its flight until it
disappeared over the hump in the road ; then con
tinued staring in that direction with eyes that
did not see that merely burned like his throat.
Jed came up the gulch with a load of wood,
and VB still stood by the gate.
"I never can get used to these here city ways,"
he grumbled, "no more n can these ponies."
VB noticed casually that a tug had been broken
and was patched with rope.
"Runaway?" he asked, scarcely conscious of
putting the question.
"Oh, Bob Thorpe s girl come drivin her auto
mobile along fit to ram straight through kingdom
come, an don t turn out till she gets so close I
thought we was done for ; to be sure, I did. Peter,
here, took a jump an busted a tug." He looked
keenly at VB. "Funny!" he remarked. "She
did n t see me, I know. An she looked as if
she d been cryin !"
He could not know the added torture those
words carried to the heart of the young fellow
battling there silently, covering up his agony,
trying to appear at ease.
THE LIE 215
For the thirst had returned with manifold
force, augmenting those other agonies which
racked him. All former ordeals were forgotten
before the fury of this assault. By the need of
stimulant he was subjected to every fiendish
whim of singing nerves; from knowing that in
him was a love which must be killed to save a
woman from sacrifice arose a torment that reached
into his very vitals.
The glands of his mouth stopped functioning,
and it seemed as though only one thing would
take the cursed dryness from his tongue and lips.
His fingers would not be still; they kept plucking
and reaching out for that hidden chord which
would draw him back to himself, or on down into
the depths somehow, he did not care which.
Anything to be out of that killing uncertainty!
As he had gained in strength during those
months, so it now seemed had the thirst grown.
It battered down his spirit, whipped it to a pulp,
and dragged it through the sloughs of doubt and
despair. His will did he have a will ? He
did not know; nor did he seem to care.
It had come the slipping backward. He
had battled well, but now he could feel himself
going, little by little, weakening, fighting out
wardly but at heart knowing the futility of it
all. And going because of Gail Thorpe! "I
can t put this mark on her!" he moaned against
the Captain s neck. "She said it that even
those we love must bear the mark. And she
216 "_I CONQUERED"
said it was all good. She was wrong, wrong!
Such a thing can t be good!
"Suppose I did keep above it, was sure of my
self for a time in a sham way, would n t it only be
running the risk of a greater disaster? Would n t
it surely come some time? Would n t it, if -
"And then it would kill her, too!"
He hammered the Captain s shoulder with his
clenched fist and the great stallion snuggled his
cheek closer to the man, trying to understand,
trying to comfort.
Then would come moments when his will
rallied and Young VB fought with the ferocity
of a jungle cat, walking back and forth across the
corral, talking to the Captain, condemning his
weaker self, gesticulating, promising. At those
times he doubted whether it was so much the
actual thirst that tore him as it was wondering
if he could be worthy of her. Then the old
desire would come again, in an engulfing wave,
and his fighting would become empty words.
Jed, who had ridden up the gulch to look after
a gap in the fence, returned at dusk. As he
watched VB feed the Captain he saw in the gloom
the straining of the boy s face; heard him talk
to the stallion piteously; and the old man s lips
framed silent words.
"If it s that girl," he declared, shaking his
fist at the skies "if it s that girl, she ought
to be ought to be spanked. An if it s th
wantin of whisky, God pity th boy!"
THE LIE 217
Supper was a curious affair. VB tried to help
in the preparation but spoiled everything he
touched, so far removed was his mind from the
work of his hands. Jed ate alone. VB sat
down, but could not touch the food offered. He
gulped coffee so steaming hot that Jed cried aloud
"Burned?" scoffed VB. "Burned by that
stuff? Jed, you don t know what burning is!"
He got to his feet and paced the floor, one hand
pressed against his throat.
The boy sat down twice again and drank
from the cup the old man kept filled, but his lips
rebelled at food; his hands would not carry it
from the plate.
Once Jed rose and tried to restrain the pacing.
"VB, boy," he implored, "set down an take
it easy. Please do! It s been bad before, you
know, but it s always turned out good in th end.
It will this time same as always. Just
"Don t, Jed." He spoke weakly, averting his
white face and pushing the old man away gently
with trembling hands. "You don t understand;
you don t understand!"
For the first time he was beyond comfort from
the little old man who had showed him the lighted
way, who had encouraged and comforted and.
held faith in him.
After a while a calm fell on VB and he stopped
his walking, helped with the work, and then sat,
still and white, in his chair. Jed watched him
ai8 "_I CONQUERED"
narrowly and comfort came to the old soul, for
he believed the boy had won another fight over
the old foe; was so sure of it that he whistled as
he prepared for the night.
The candle burned on, low against the neck
of the bottle, but still bright and steady. VB
watched it, fascinated, thought tagging thought
through his mind. Then a tremor shot through
"Jed," he said in a voice that was strained but
even, "let s play a little pitch, won t you?"
It was his last hope, the last attempt to divert
the attack on his will and bolster his waning forces.
His nerves jumped and cringed and quivered, but
outwardly he was calm, his face drawn to mask
Jed, aroused, rubbed his sleepy eyes and lighted
his pipe. He put on his steel-rimmed spectacles
and took down the greasy, cornerless deck of
cards to shuffle them slowly, with method, as
though it were a rite.
VB sat motionless and a little limp in his chair,
too far from the table for comfortable playing.
Jed peered at him over his glasses.
"You might get th coffee beans," he said, with
a great yawn.
When the other did not answer he said again:
"You might get th coffee beans, VB. Sleepy?"
The young chap arose then to follow the sug
gestion, but ignored the query. He went to the
cupboard and brought back a handful of the
THE LIE 219
beans, the cowman s poker chips. His hand was
waiting for him.
"Good deal?" Jed asked.
VB shook his head. "Not better than a
"O-ho, I m better off!" and Jed slammed
down the ace of hearts.
VB leaned low and played the four-spot, almost
viciously, gritting his teeth to force his mind into
the game. It rebelled, told him the uselessness
of such things, the hopelessness before him, tried
to play on the ajidness of his throat. But for
the moment his will was strong and he followed
the game as though gambling for a life.
Suddenly the thought surged through him
that he was gambling for a life his own life,
and possibly for a woman s life!
Jed made his points, and again, on his own bid,
he swept up the coffee counters. Then he took
off his glasses and laid them aside with another
VB wanted to cry aloud to him to keep on
playing ; he wanted to let Jed Avery know all
that the simple, foolish little game of cards meant
to him. But somehow his waning faith had
taken with it the power to confide.
Jed made four inexcusable blunders in playing
that hand, and each time his muttered apologies
became shorter. When the hand was over and
he had won a point he did not notice that the boy
failed to give him the counter.
220 "_I CONQUERED"
VB dealt, picked up his cards, and waited for
the bid. But Jed s chin was on his breast, one
hand lay loosely over the scattered cards before
him; the other hung at his side limply. His
breath came and went regularly. Sleep had
stolen in on VB s final stand!
Oh, if Jed Avery had only known! If his
kindly old heart had only read VB better, divining
the difference between calm and peace! For a
long time VB looked at the old man, his breath
gradually quickening, the flame in his eyes grow
ing sharper, more keen, as the consuming fire in
him ate away the last barriers of resistance.
Once his gaze went to the candle, burning so low
against the bottle, yet so brightly, its molten
wax running dow r n and adding to the incrustment.
He stared wanly at the bright little beacon and
shook his head, terror wiping out the vestiges
of a smile.
Action! That was what he wanted! Action!
He must move or lose his mind and babble and
scream ! He must move and move rapidly
as rapidly as the rush of those thoughts through
his inflamed mind.
He trembled in every limb as he sat there,
realizing the need for bodily activity.
And yet, guilefully, craftily, softly, that voice
down within him told that action could be of
only one sort, could take him only in one direc
tion. It whined and wheedled and gave him a
cowardly assurance, made him lie in his own
THE LIE 221
thoughts; made him cautious in his sneaking
determination, for he knew any question Jed
night ask would bring frenzy.
VB rose, slowly, carefully, so that there might
be no creaking of the boots or scraping of chair
legs. He picked up his hat, his muffler, his
jumper, and moved stealthily toward the door,
opened it inch by inch, and shut it behind him
quickly, silently, cutting off the draft of night
air for such a thing might be as disastrous as
a cry aloud.
The moon rode above the ridge and the air
had lost its winter s edge. It was mild, but with
the tang of mountain nights. It was quiet below,
but as he stood in the open, pulling on his jumper,
he heard the stirring of wind on the points above.
It was a soughing, the sort of wind that makes stock
uneasy; and VB caught that disquieting vibration.
He stepped out from the cabin and a soft call
ing from the corral reached him.
"Coming, Captain, coming," he answered.
And with a guilty glance behind him he felt
for the gun nestling against his side. His jaw-
muscles tightened as he assured himself it was
fastened there securely.
The Captain was waiting at the gate. VB let
it swing open, then turned and walked toward the
saddle rack. The horse followed closely, ears up
as though in wonder at this procedure.
"It s all right, Captain," VB whispered as he
threw on the saddle blanket. As he drew the
222 "_I CONQUERED"
cinch tight he muttered: "Or else all wrong ! "
Action, action! his body begged. He must
have it; nothing else would suffice! He wanted
to fly along, skimming the tops of those ghost
bushes, ripping through the night, feeling the
ripple of wind on that throat, the cooling currents
of air against those hammering temples.
And VB knew it was a lie ! A rank, deliberate,
hypocritical lie! He knew what that action
meant, he knew in what direction it would take
him. He knew; he knew!
"Oh, Captain!" he sobbed, drawing the bridled
head against his chest. "You know what it is
to fight! You know what it is to yield! But
the yielding did n t break you, boy! It could n t.
You were too big, too great to be broken; they
could only bend and
With a breath of nervous rage he was in the
saddle. The Captain s feet rattled on the hard
ground with impatience. An instant VB hesi
tated, gathering the reins, separating them from
the strands of thick mane. Then, leaning low,
uttering a throaty wail, he gave the Captain his
head and into the veiled night they bolted.
The cattle were coming on him, and he was
powerless to move! They were bunched, run
ning shoulder to shoulder, and his bed was in
their path ! Jed tried to raise his arms and could
barely move them; his legs rebelled. The stam
pede was roaring at him! Oh, the rumble of
THE LIE 223
those hoofs, those sharp, cloven, blind, merciless
hoofs, that would mangle and tear and trample!
Jed Avery awoke with a start. He was on his
feet in the middle of the floor before conscious
ness came, gasping quickly at the horror of his
dream, his excited heart racing!
But it was no stampede. Running hoofs, but
no stampede! He stumbled to the door and
flung it open. His old eyes caught the flash of
a lean, dark object as it raced across the door-
yard straight at the gate, never pausing, never
hesitating, and taking the bars with a sturdy
leap that identified the horse instantly.
He called the name shrilly into the night, but
his cry was drowned to the rider s ears, for the
Captain s hoofs had caught ground again and
were spurning it viciously as he clawed for the
speed, the action, that was to satisfy the outraged
nerves of his master!
That lie! It was not the action that would
satisfy. The flight was only an accessory, an
agency that would transport VB to the scene
of the renunciation of all that for which he had
battled through those long months.
For a long moment Jed stood in the doorway
as he had poised at first, stiff, rigid. The sounds
of the rushing horse diminuendoed quickly and
became only a murmur in the night. Jed Avery s
figure lost its tensity, went slack, and he leaned
limply against the door frame.
224 "I CONQUERED"
"He s gone!" he moaned. "He s gone! It s
broke in on him Oh, VB, I m afraid it has!
No good takes you south at this time, after
th spell you ve had!"
He slammed the door shut and turned back
into the room. Unsteady feet took him to his
chair, and he settled into it heavily, leaning against
the table, his eyes registering the sight of no
"He was fightin harder n ever," he whispered
dryly, "an" I set here sleepin . To be sure, I
wasn t on hand when VB needed me most!"
The ending of his self-accusation was almost
a sob, and his head dropped forward. He sat
like that for an hour. The fire in the stove went
out, and the cool of night penetrated the log walls
of the cabin. He gazed unblinkingly at the
floor; now and then his lips formed soundlesf
The candle, burning low, fed the flame too
fiercely with the last bit of itself. The neck of
the bottle was a globule of molten wax in which
the short wick swam. The flame had become
larger, but it was dead and the smoke rose thickly
from its heavy edges. The grease seemed to be
disturbed. It quivered, steadied, then settled.
The flame slipped down the neck of the bottle and
was snuffed out by the confines of the thing.
Jed A very drew a long, quivering breath, d
breath of horror. He turned his face toward
the place where the light had been, hoping that
THE LIE 225
his sight had failed. Then he reached out and
found the bottle. His hard fingers ran over it,
felt the empty neck, paused, and drew away as
though it were an infectious thing.
The old man sagged forward to the table, his
face in his arms.
THROUGH THE NIGHT
ON into the night went the Captain, bearing
VB. Over the gate the bridle-rein drew
against his neck and the big beast swung to
the right, following the road southward, on down
the gulch, on toward Ranger a fierceness in his
rider s heart that was suicidal.
All the bitterness VB had endured, from the
stinging torrent his father turned upon him back
in New York to the flat realization that to let
himself love Gail Thorpe might bring him into
worse hells, surged up into his throat and mingled
with the craving there. It seeped through into
his mind, perverted his thoughts, stamped down
the optimism that had held him up, shattered
what remnants of faith still remained.
"Faster, Captain!" he cried. "Faster!"
And the stallion responded, scudding through
the blue moonlight with a speed that seemed
beyond the power of flesh to attain. He shook
his fine head and stretched out the long nose as
though the very act of thrusting it farther would
give more impetus to his thundering hoofs.
VB sat erect in the saddle, a fierce delight
aroused by the speed running through his veins
like fire and, reaching to his throat, adding to
THROUGH THE NIGHT 227
the scorching. He swung his right hand rhyth
mically, keeping time to the steady roll of the
stallion s feet. The wind tore at him, vibrating
his hat brim, whipping the long muffler out from
his neck, and he shook his head against it.
He was free at last! Free after those months
of doubt, of foolish fighting! He was answering
the call that came from the depths of his true
self that hidden self the call of flesh that
needs aid! He cared not for the morrow, for
the stretching future. His one thought was on
the now on the rankling, eating, festering
moment that needed only one thing to be wiped
And always, in the back of his mind, was the
picture of Gail Thorpe as she had turned from
him that afternoon. It loomed large and larger
as he tore on to the south through the solitude,
ripping his way through the cool murk.
"I won t put my mark on her!" he cried, and
whipped the Captain s flanks with his heavy
hat, the thought setting his heart flaming. "I
won t!" he cried. And again, "I won t!"
He was riding down into his particular depths
so to stultify himself that it would be impossible
to risk that woman s happiness against the chance
that some time, some day, he would go down,
loving her, making her know he loved her, but
fighting without gain. That, surely, is one sort
of love, faulty though the engendering spirit
228 "_I CONQUERED"
The whipping with the hat sent the horse on
to still greater endeavor. A slight weariness
commenced to show in the ducking of his head
with every stride, but he did not slacken his pace.
His ears were still set stiffly forward, flipping
back, one after the other, for word from his rider;
the spurn of his feet was still sharp and clear
and unfaltering; the spirit in that rippling, drip
ping body still ran high.
And closing his eyes, drinking the night air
through his mouth in great gulps, VB let the
animal carry him on and on, yet backward,
back into the face of all that fighting he had
summoned, doubling on his own tracks, slipping
so easily down the way he had blazed upward
with awful sacrifice and hardship.
An hour two nine eleven the Cap
tain might have been running so a week, and VB
would not have known. His mind was not on
time, not on his horse. He had ceased to think
beyond the recognition of a craving, a craving
that he did not fight but encouraged, nursed,
teased for it was going to be satisfied !
The stallion s pace began to slacken. He
wearied. The bellows lungs, the heart of steel,
the legs of tireless sinew began to feel the strain
of that long run. The run waned to a gallop,
and the gallop to a trot. There his breathing
becoming easier, he blew loudly from his nostrils
as though to distend them farther and make
way for the air he must have.
THROUGH THE NIGHT 229
VB realized this dully but his heeding of that
devilish inner call had taken him so far from
his more tender self, from his instinctive desire
to love and understand, that he did not follow
out his comprehension.
"Go it, boy!" he muttered. "It s all I ll ask
of you just this one run."
And the Captain, dropping an ear back for
the word, leaned to the task, resuming the
steady, space-eating gallop mile after mile. All
the way into Ranger they held that pace. In the
last mile the stallion stumbled twice, but after
both breaks in his stride ran on more swiftly
for many yards, as though to make up to his
master for the jolting the half falls gave him.
He was a bit unsteady on those feet as he took
the turn and dropped down the low bank into the
river. They forded it in a shimmer of silver as
the horse s legs threw out the black water to be
frozen and burnished by the light of the moon.
The stallion toiled up the far bank at a lagging
trot, and on the flat VB pulled the panting animal
down to a walk.
Oh, VB, it was not too late then, had you only
realized it! Your ideal was still there, more
exemplary than ever before, but you could not
recognize it through those eyes which saw only
the red of a wrecking passion! You had drained
to the last ounce of reserve the strength of that
spirit you had so emulated, which had been as
a shining light, an unfaltering candle in the
23 o "__I CONQUERED"
darkness. It was stripped bare before you as
that splendid animal gulped between breaths.
Could you have but seen! Could something
only have made you see! But it was not to be.
VB had forgotten the Captain. In the face
of his wretched weakening the stallion became
merely a conveyance, a convenience, a means for
stifling the neurotic excitement within him. He
forgot that this thing he rode represented his
only achievement an achievement such as few
men ever boast.
He guided the stallion to a half-wrecked log
house south of the road, dismounted, and stood
a moment before the shack, his glittering eyes on
the squares of light yonder under the rising hill.
He heard a faint tinkling from the place, and a
voice raised in laughter.
As he watched, a mounted man passed between
him and the yellow glare. In a moment he saw
the man enter the saloon door.
"Come, boy," he muttered, moving cautiously
through the opening into the place. "You ll
be warm in here. You ll cool off slowly."
Then, in a burst of hysterical passion, he threw
his arms about the stallion s head and drew it
to him fiercely.
"Oh, I won t be gone long, Captain!" he
promised. "Not long just a little while. It s
not the worst, Captain! I m not weakening!"
Drunk with the indulgence of his nervous
weakness, he lied glibly, knowing he lied, without
THROUGH THE NIGHT 231
object just to lie, to pervert life. And as the
Captain s quick, hot breath penetrated his gar
ments, VB drew the head still tighter.
"You re all I ve got, Captain," he muttered,
now in a trembling calm. "You 11 wait. I know
that. I know what you will do better than I
know anything else in the world better than
I know what what / // do! Wait for me, boy
wait right here!"
His voice broke on the last word as he stumbled
through the door and set off toward the building
against the hill. He did not hear the Captain
turn, walk as far as the door of the shack, and
peer after him anxiously. Nor did he see the
figure of a man halted in the road, watching him
go across the flat, chaps flapping, brushing through
the sage noisily.
VB halted in the path of light, swaying the
merest trifle from side to side as he pulled his
chap belt in another hole and tried to still
the twitching of his hands, the weakening of his
The tinkling he had heard became clear. He
could see now. A Mexican squatted on his
spurs, back against the wall, and twanged a
fandango on a battered guitar. His hat was far
back over his head, cigarette glowing in the corner
of his mouth, gay blue muffler loose on his shoul
ders. He hummed to the music, his voice rising
now and then to float out into the night above
the other sounds from the one room.
232 "_I CONQUERED"
The bar of rough boards, top covered with
red oilcloth, stretched along one side. Black
bottles flashed their high lights from a shelf
behind it, above which hung an array of antlers.
The bartender, broad Stetson shading his face,
talked loudly, his hands wide apart on the bar and
bearing much of his weight. Now and then he
dropped his head to spit between his forearms.
Three men in chaps lounged before the bar,
talking. One, the tallest, talked with his head
flung back and gestures that were a trifle too loose.
The shortest looked into his face with a ceaseless,
senseless smile, and giggled whenever the voice
rose high or the gestures became unusually wild.
The third, elbows on the oilcloth, head on his
fists, neither joined in nor appeared to heed the
Back in the room stood two tables, both
covered with green cloth. One was unused; the
other accommodated four men. Each of the
quartet wore a hat drawn low over his face; each
held cards. They seldom spoke; when they did,
their voices were low. VB saw only their lips
move. Their motions were like the words few
and abrupt. When chips were counted it was
with expertness; when they were shoved to the
center of the table it was with finality.
Near them, tilted against the wall in a wire-
trussed chair, sat a sleeping man, hat on the floor.
Two swinging oil lamps lighted the smoke-
fogged air of the place, and their glow seemed
THROUGH THE NIGHT 233
to be diffused by it, idealizing everything,
Everything except the high lights from the
bottles on the shelf. Those were stabs of searing
brightness; they hurt VB s eyeballs.
His gaze traveled back to the Mexican. The
melody had drifted from the fandango into a
swinging waltz song popular in the cities four
years before. He whistled the air through his
teeth. The cigarette was still between his lips.
The face brought vague recollections to VB.
Then he remembered that this was Julio, the
Mexican who ran with Rhues. He belonged to
Rhues, they had told him, body and soul.
Thought of Rhues sent VB s right hand to
his left side, up under the arm. He squeezed
the gun that nestled there.
Of a sudden, nausea came to the man who
looked in. It was not caused by fear of Rhues
of the possibility of an encounter. The poignant
fumes that came from the open door stirred it,
and the sickness was that of a man who sees his
great prize melt away.
For the moment VB wanted to rebel. He
tore his eyes from those glittering bottles; tried
to stop his breathing that treacherous nostrils
might not inhale those odors.
But it was useless his feet would not carry
him away. He knew he must move, move soon,
and though he now cried out in his heart against
it he knew which way his feet would carry him.
2 34 "I CONQUERED"
He half turned his body and looked back
toward the shack where the Captain waited, and
a tightening came in his throat to mingle with
the rapaciousness there.
"Just a little while, Captain," he whispered,
feeling childishly that the horse would hear the
words and understand. "Just a little while -
I m just just going to take a little hand in the
And as the Mexican finished his waltz with a
rip of the thumb clear across the six strings of
his instrument, Young VB put a foot on the
threshold of the saloon and slowly drew himself
to his full height in the doorway. Framed by
darkness he stood there, thumbs in his belt,
mouth in a grim line, hat down to hide the pallor
of his cheeks, the torment in his eyes; his shoulders
were braced back in resolution, but his knees,
inside his generous chaps, trembled.
THE LAST STAND
T^VEN the vibrating guitar strings seemed to be
-* stilled suddenly. For VB, an abrupt hush
crushed down on the scene. He felt the eyes as,
pair after pair, they followed those of the Mexican
and gazed at him; even the man slumbering in
his chair awoke, raised his head, and stared at
him sleepily. He stood in the doorway, leaning
lightly against the logs, returning each gaze in
"Hello, VB!" one of the trio before the bar
"Hello, Tom!" answered the newcomer -
and stepped into the room.
Then what hush had fallen real or imagi
nary lifted and the talk went on, the game
Perhaps the talk was not fully sincere, possibly
the thoughts of the speakers were not always on
their words, for every man in the place stole
glances at the tall young fellow as he moved
slowly about the room.
They had known for months the fight that was
going on up there on Jed Avery s ranch. They
knew that the man who had mastered the Captain
and set his name forever in the green annals of
236 "_I CONQUERED"
the country had been fighting to command him
self against the attacks of the stuff they peddled
here in the saloon at Ranger. They knew how
he had fought off temptation, avoided contact
with whisky and now, late at night, he had
walked slowly into the heart of the magnet that
had exerted such an influence on him. So they
watched VB as he moved about.
The sharp lights from those black bottles!
Like snakes eyes, they commanded his and,
when this power had been exerted, they seemed
to stab the brain that directed sight at them. In
the first few steps across the rough floor VB
answered their call to look a half dozen times,
and after each turning of his gaze jerked his eyes
away in pain.
He did not turn toward the bar rather, kept
close to the wall, passing so near the squatting
Mexican that the flap of his chaps brushed the
other s knees. The Greaser picked at the strings
of his instrument aimlessly, striking unrelated
chords, tinkling on a single string; then came a
few bars from the fandango. His head was
tilted to one side and a glittering eye followed the
slow-moving figure of Young VB.
By the time the newcomer was halfway toward
the poker table the Mexican got to his feet, slid
ing his back slowly up the wall until he reached a
standing position. Then, for the first time taking
his eyes from VB, he stepped lightly toward the
door. After a final tinkling chord had fallen he
THE LAST STAND 237
disappeared, guitar slung under one arm, walking
slowly away from the lighted place. But when
he was beyond sight of those within, he ran.
VB went on, past the just-awakened man in
his chair, close to the poker table. The players
looked up again, first one, with a word of recog
nition; then two spoke at once, and after he had
raked in the pot the fourth nodded with a wel
The young fellow leaned a shoulder against the
log wall and watched the game. That is, he
looked at it. But continually his fevered memory
retained a vision of those glares from the bottles.
His mind again played crazy tricks, as it
always did when the thirst clamored loudly.
The rattle of the chips sounded like ice in glasses,
and he turned his head quickly toward the bar,
following the imaginary sound.
The four men there were just drinking. He
followed their movements with wild eyes. The
bartender lifted his glass to the level of his fore
head in salute, then drained its contents slowly,
steadily, every movement from the lifting to
the setting down of the empty glass smooth,
deliberate even polished the movements of
a professedly artful drinker. The silent man
offered no good word merely lifted the glass
and drank, tipping his head but slightly, empty
ing the glass with an uneven twisting of the
wrist, something like an exaggerated tremble.
The short man tossed his drink off by elevating
238 "_I CONQUERED"
the glass quickly to his lips and throwing his
head back with a jerk to empty it into his mouth.
The tall man, who talked loudly and motioned
much, waved his drink through the air to empha
size a declaration, and with an uncertain swoop
directed it to his lips. He leaned backward
from the hips to drink, and the movement made
him reel and grasp the bar for support.
As he had followed the movements of those
men, so VB followed the course of the stuff they
drank down their throats; in imagination, down
his throat, until it hit upon and glossed over that
spot which wailed for soothing!
Oh, how he wanted it! Still, all those months
of battling had not been without result. The
rigid fight he had made carried him on, even in
face of his resolve to yield, and he delayed, put
it off just a moment lying to himself !
He turned back to the game.
"Sit in, VB?" one of the players asked.
"Don t mind."
He dragged another chair to the table, unbut
toned and cast off his jumper, gave the hat
another low tug, and tossed a yellow-backed
twenty to the table. The chips were shoved
"Jacks or better," the dealer said, and shot the
cards about the board.
VB won a pot. He bet eagerly on the next and
lost. Then he won again. The game interested
him for the moment.
THE LAST STAND 239
"Oh, just one more HT drink!" cried the
garrulous cowboy at the bar.
VB had passed the opening, went in later, drew
.three cards, failed to help his tens, and hiked the
bet Called, he dropped the hand; and the
winner, showing aces up, stared at the boy who
had bet against openers on lone tens. He noticed
that VB s hands trembled, and he wondered. He
could not feel VB s throat. Nor could he hear
the careless plea of the sotted rider for just one
more drink ringing in VB s burning brain.
A big pot was played and the winner, made
"Well, I ll buy a drink."
The bartender, hearing, came to the table.
"What 11 it be?" he asked.
"Whisky," said the man on VB s right, and
the word went around the circle.
Then a moment s pause, while the cards
There it was, reaching out for him, holding out
its tentacles that ceased to appear as such and
became soft, inviting arms. It was that for
which he had ridden through the night; it was
that against which he had fought month after
month until, this night, he realized that a fight
was useless; it was the one solace left him, for
indirectly it had brought into his life the glorious
thing and wiped it out again. So why hold
off? Why refuse?
240 "__I CONQUERED"
But those months of fighting! He could not
overcome that impetus which his subjective self
had received from the struggle. Consciously he
wanted the stuff oh, how he wanted it ! But
deep in him something
"Not now thanks," he managed to mutter,
and clasped his cards tightly.
The bartender turned away, rubbing his chin
with one finger, as though perplexed. VB dealt,
and with lightning agility. He even broke in
on the silence of the playing with senseless chatter
when the drinks were brought. He held his
cards high that he might not see the glasses, and
was glad that the men did not drink at once.
Nor did they drink for many moments. The
opener was raised twice; few cards were drawn.
A check passed one man, the next bet, the next
raised, and VB, the deal, came in.
The opener raised again and the bartender,
seeing, stepped across to watch. The drowsy
lounger, sensing the drift of the game, rose to
VB dropped out. He held threes, but felt
that they had no place in that game. The
betting went on and on, up and up, three men
bent on raising, the fourth following, intent on
having a look, anyhow. VB threw his cards
down and dropped his hands loosely on the table.
The back of his right hand touched a cold object.
He looked down quickly. It was resting against
a whisky glass.
THE LAST STAND 241
"And ten more," a player said.
"Ten and another ten." More chips rattled
into the pile.
His hand stole back and hot fingers reached
out to touch with sensitive tips that cool surface.
His nostrils worked to catch the scent of the
stuff. His hand was around the glass.
"I m staying."
"You are for five more."
VB s fingers tightened about the thing, squeezed
it in the palm of his hand. It had felt cool at
first; now it was like fire. The muscles of that
arm strove to lift it. His inner mind struggled,
declared against the intention, weakened, yielded,
"Well, I m through. Fight it out."
The man at VB s right dropped his cards in
disgust and with a quick movement reached for
His nervous, hot hand closed on VB s and
their surprised glances met.
"Excuse me," muttered VB.
"Sure!" said the other, surly over his lost
stake, and gulped down the whisky.
Two of the players went broke in that pot.
The fourth had a scant remnant of his original
stack left, and VB was loser. The two who had
failed shoved back their hats and yawned, almost
"How about it?" asked the winner, stacking
242 "_I CONQUERED"
"I m satisfied," said the man at VB s right.
The boy sat back in his chair with a long-
drawn breath after shoving his chips across to
be cashed. He pushed his hat back for the first
time, and a man across the table stared hard as
he saw the harried face. The others were busy,
"Just get in, VB?" some one asked.
He heard the question through a tumult.
His muscles had already contracted in the first
movement of rising; his will already directed his
feet across the room to the bar to answer the call
of those searching bottle eyes. Inwardly he
raged at himself for holding off so long, for wasting
those months, for letting that other new thing
come into his life only to be torn away again;
when it all meant mere delay, a drawing out of
suffering! Only half consciously he framed the
"Yes, I rode down to-night."
"Coin on out?"
"What?" he asked, forcing his mind to give
heed to the other.
"Goin on out, or goin to hang around a while? "
"I don t know." The boy got to his feet, and
the reply was given with rare bitterness. "I
don t know," he said again, voice mounting. "I
may go out and I may not. I may hang
around a while, and it may n t take long. I m
THE LAST STAND 243
here to finish something I started a long time
ago, something that I ve been putting off. I m
going to put a stop to a lying, hypocritical exist
ence. I m "
He broke off thickly and moved away from the
No imagination created a hush this time. On
his words the counting of chips ceased. They
looked at him, seeing utter desperation, and not
A face outside that had been pressed close
to a window was lowered, darkness hiding the
glitter of green eyes and the leering smile of tri
umph. A figure slunk along carefully to the
corner of the building and joined two others.
It was his chance! Rhues was out to get his
man this moonlight night, and there was now
no danger. Young VB w r as no longer afraid to
take a drink. He would give up his fight, give
up his hard -wrung freedom, and when drunken
men go down, shot in a quarrel, there is always
cause. He had him now!
VB lurched across the room toward the bar.
In mid-floor he paused, turned, and faced those
at the poker table.
"Don t mistake me," he said with a grin.
"Don t think I m talking against any man in the
country. It s myself, boys just me. I m the
liar, the hypocrite. I ve tried to lie myself into
being what I never can be. I ve come out here
among you to go by the name of the outfit I ride
244 -I CONQUERED"
for. You don t know me, don t even know my
name, say nothing of my own rotten self. Well,
you re going to know me as I am."
He swung around to face the bar. The bar
tender pulled nervously on his mustache.
"What 11 it be, VB?" he asked, surprised
knowledge sending the professional question to
"The first thing you come to," the boy mut
tered, and grasped the bar for support.
in the shadow of the building three men
huddled close together, talking in whispers
Rhues, Matson, and the Mexican. Rhues
had watched the progress of the poker game,
waiting the chance he had tried to seek out ever
since that day up at Avery s when he had been
beaten down by the flailing fists of that tall
young tenderfoot. He had seen VB start for the
bar; he knew the hour had struck.
"We ve got him!" he whispered. "He won t
get away this time. They won t be no mistakes."
"S-s-s-s!" the Greaser warned.
"Aw, nobody 11 ever know," Rhues scoffed
in an undertone. "They ll never know that
unless you spill. An if you do it ll mean
three of us to th gallows, unless we re lynched
Silence a moment, and they heard VB s voice
raised. Then Rhues whispered his quick plans.
"Take it easy," he warned in conclusion.
"Don t start nothin . Let him git drunk; then
he ll do th startin an it ll be easy."
Inside a bottle was thumped on the bar, a
glass beside it. Feverishly VB reached for both,
lifting the glass with uncertain hand, tilting the
246 "_I CONQUERED"
bottle from the bar, not trusting his quaking
muscles to raise it. The neck touched the glass
with a dull clink; the mouth of the bottle gurgled
greedily as the first of the liquor ran out for
all the world as if it had waited these months
for that chuckle of triumph.
And then that romanticism of youth came to
the surface of his seething thoughts again. It
would be the closing of a chapter, that drink.
It was for her sake he would lift it to his lips.
He wanted to bid her a last, bitter farewell.
She was over there, far across the hills, sleeping
and dreaming with her golden hair over
there in the northeast. He laughed harshly, set
the bottle back on the bar, and turned his face
in her direction.
Those who watched from the other end of the
room saw him turn his head unsteadily; saw the
sudden tenseness which spread through his frame,
stiffening those faltering knees. He turned slowly
toward the door and thrust his face forward as
though to study and make certain that he saw
Like a rush of fire the realization swept through
him. A man stood there in the moonlight, and
the sheen from the heavens was caught on the
dull barrel of a gun in his hand.
VB was covered, and he knew by whom! The
man who had fought less than half a dozen times
in his life, and then with bare fists, was the object
of a trained gun hand. He could almost see the
GUNS CRASH 247
glitter of the green eyes that were staring at him.
Instinct should have told him to spring to one
side; a leap right or left would have carried him
out of range, but instinct had been warped by all
those months of struggle.
He was on the brink, at the point of losing his
balance; but the battling spirit within him still
throbbed, though his frenzy, his lack of faith,
had nearly killed it. Now the thing came alive
pulsing, bare !
An instant before he had not cared what
happened. Now he did, and the end was not
the only thing in view; the means counted with
He did not jump for shelter. He roared his
rage as he prepared to stand and fight.
The others understood before his hand reached
his shirt front. The bartender dropped behind
the fixture and the others in the room sprang
behind the barrels and stove. By the time VB s
hand had clasped the neck of his shirt he stood
alone. When the vicious yank he gave the gar
ment ripped it open from throat halfway to waist
the first belch of fire came from that gun out there.
The bottle on the bar exploded, fine bits of
glass shooting to the far corners of the room.
Come on you yellow
VB s fingers found the butt of his Colt, closed
and yanked. It came from the holster, poised,
muzzle upward, his thumb over the hammer.
Possibly he stood thus a tenth part of a second,
24 8 "__I CONQUERED"
but while he waited for his eyes to focus well a
generation seemed to parade past. He was
hunted down by a crawling piece of vermin!
A parallel sprang to his mind. While Rhues
sought his body did not another viper seek his
soul ? Was
Then he made out the figure crouched low.
The forty-five came down, and the room re
sounded with its roar. He stood there, a green
horn who had never handled a weapon in his
life until the last year, giving battle to a gun
fighter whose name was a synonym!
Out of the moonlight came another flash, and
before VB could answer the hunched figure had
leaped from the area framed by the doorway.
"You won t stand!" the boy cried, and strode
across the room.
"Don t be a fool! VB!"
The bartender s warning might as well have
been unheard. Straight for the open door went
the boy, gun raised, coughing from the powder
smoke. But the mustached man, though pan-
derer by profession, revolted at unfairness; per
haps it was through the boy s ignorance, but he
knew VB walked only to become a target.
Twice his gun roared from behind the bar and the
two swinging lamps became scattered, tinkling
VB seemed not to heed, not to notice that he
was in darkness. He reached the door, put his
left hand against the casing, and looked out.
GUNS CRASH 249
With lights behind he would have been riddled
on the instant. But, looking from blackness to
moonlight, he was invisible for the moment -
but only for a moment.
The stream of yellow stabbed at him again
and Young VB, as though under the blow of a
sledge, spun round and was flattened against the
His left breast seemed to be in flames. He
reached for it, fired aimlessly with the other
hand in the direction of his hidden foe, and let
the gun clatter to the floor.
He wondered if it were death that darkness.
He felt the fanning of the wind, heard, dimly,
its uneasy soughing. It was very dark.
A movement and its consequent grip of pain
brought him back. He saw then that a heavy
cloud, wind driven, had blotted out the moon.
In a frenzy he came alert! He was wounded I
He had dropped his gun and they were waiting for
him out there, somewhere; waiting to finish him!
He could feel the smearing of blood across his
chest as his clothing held it in. His legs com
menced to tremble, from true physical weakness
And the Captain was waiting!
That thought wiped out every other; he was
possessed with it. He might be dying, but if
he could only get to the Captain; if he could only
feel that silken nose against his cheek! Nothing
would matter then.
2 5 o "_I CONQUERED"
If he could get up, if he could mount, the
Captain would take care of him. He could out
run those bullets the Captain. He would take
him home, away from this inferno.
"I m coming, Captain!" he muttered brokenly.
"You re waiting! Oh, I know where to find you.
I m coming, boy, coming!"
He stepped down from the doorway and reeled,
a hand against his wounded breast. It seemed
as though it required an eternity to regain his
balance. Then he lurched forward a step. Oh,
they were merciless! They opened on him from
behind when he had no weapon, when his life
was gushing away under his shirt! Those shots
never came from one gun alone. More than one
man fired on him!
His salvation then was flight. He ran, stag
gering, stumbling. He plunged forward on his
face and heard a bullet scream over him.
Oh, Captain ! " he moaned. Can t you come
and get me? Can t you?"
He snarled his determination to rally those
senses that tried to roam off into vagaries. He
got to his hands and knees and crawled, inch by
inch. He heard another shot, but it went wild.
He got to his feet and reeled on. They thought
they d done for him when he fell! He heard
himself laughing crazily at the joke.
Oh, you 11 laugh, too Captain ! " he growled.
"It s a joke you ll if I can only get to
GUNS CRASH 251
His numb, lagging legs seemed to make con
scious efforts to hold him back. His head be
came as heavy as his feet and rolled about on
his neck, now straight forward, now swinging
from side to side. His arms flopped as no arm
ever should flop. And he heard the blood bub
bling under his vest. Perhaps he would never
get there! Perhap she was done for!
"Oh, no I can t quit before I get to
you, Captain!" he muttered as he fell again.
You re waiting where I told you to wait !
I ve got to get there ! "
Of only one thing in this borderland between
consciousness and insensibility was he certain
the Captain was waiting. The Captain was
w r aiting! If he could get that far It was
the climax of all things. To reach his horse;
to touch him; to put his arms about those ankles
as he fell and hold them close; to answer trust
with trust. For through all this the Captain
The shack where he had left the horse swam
before his eyes. He heard the breath making
sounds in his throat as he crawled on toward it,
counting each hand-breadth traveled an achieve
ment. He tried to call out to the horse, but the
words clogged and he could not make his voice
"Just a moment, boy!" he whispered. "Only
- a moment longer then you won t have -
2 5 2 "_I CONQUERED"
He was conscious again that his pursuers fired
from behind. It was moonlight once more, and
they could see him as he reeled on toward the
shack. He sprawled again as his foot met a stone,
and the guns ceased to crash.
But VB did not think on this more than that
instant. He found no comfort in the cessation
of firing. For him, only one attainable object
remained in life. He wanted to be with the
thing of which he was certain, away from all else
to know a faith was justified ; to sense once
His hand struck rough wood. He strained
his eyes to make out the tumble-down structure
rising above him.
"Captain!" he called, forcing his voice up from
a whisper. "Come boy, I m ready to go
Clinging to the logs, he raised himself to his
feet and swayed in through the door.
"Captain," he muttered, closing his eyes almost
contentedly and waiting. "Captain?"
He started forward in alarm, a concern mount
ing through his torture and dimming his sensi
Captain are you here ?
He stumbled forward, arms outstretched in the
darkness, feeling about the space. He ran into
a wall; turned, met another.
"Captain!" he cried, his voice mounting to a
GUNS CRASH 253
The Captain was gone !
Reason for keeping on slipped from VB s mind.
He needed air, so his reflexes carried him through
the doorway again, out of the place where he had
left the stallion, out of the place where his trust
had been betrayed. He stumbled, recovered his
balance, plunged on out into the moonlight, into
the brush, sobbing heavily. His knees failed. He
crashed down, face plowing into cool soil.
Captain " ! he moaned. Oh, boy I did n t
think you would fail - No wonder I
could n t keep going -
He did not hear the running feet, did not know
they rolled him over, Rhues with his gun up
"I got him, th - "he muttered.
"Then let s get out pronto!"
Twenty minutes later a man with a lantern
stepped out of the shack in which the Captain
had stood. Two others were with him.
"Yes, he left his horse there, all right," the
man with the light muttered. "He got to him
an got away. Nobody else could lead that horse
off. He could n t a been hard hit or he could n t
a got up."
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN
A YOUNG chap from the East who was in
^^ Clear River County because of his lungs
named her Delilah when she was only a little
girl Delilah Gomez. She cooked now for the
Double Six Ranch, the buildings of which clustered
within a stone s throw of the Ranger post office.
And that night as she sat looking from her window
she thought, as she did much of the time, about
the smiling Julio with his guitar the handsome
fellow who lived with Senor Rhues and did no
work, but wore such fine chaps and kerchiefs!
She sighed, then started to her feet as she saw
him come through the gate and up the path, and
hastened to open the door for him.
Julio took off his hat.
"It is late," he said, flashing his teeth. "I
come to ask you to do something for me, Delilah."
"What is it now so late?" she asked
"In the old house across the road" he
pointed "is a horse. It is the horse of a friend.
A friend, also, of Senor Rhues. He is now in the
saloon. He is drunk. Will you take the horse
away? To the place of Senor Rhues? And
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN 255
put him in the barn? And be sure to fasten
the door so he will not get out?"
Delilah was puzzled a moment.
"But why," she asked, "why so late?"
Julio bowed profoundly again.
"We go Serior Rhues, Senor Matson, and
I, Julio, to take our friend away from the saloon.
We are busy. Serior Rhues offers this."
He pressed a dollar into her palm. And for
the dollar and a flash of Julio s teeth, Delilah
went forth upon her commission.
The three men watched her go.
"That devil d tear a man to pieces," Rhues
muttered. "Any woman can handle him, though.
Git him locked up, an th - - tenderfoot can t
make it away! He ll have to stay an take
what s comin !"
The girl led the Captain down the road, past
the Double Six Ranch, on to the cramped little
barn behind the cabin where lived Rhues and his
It was not an easy task. The Captain did not
want to go. He kept stopping and looking back.
But the girl talked to him kindly and stroked his
nose and VB himself had taught him to
respect women. This woman talked softly and
petted him much, for she remembered the great
horse she had seen ridden by the tall young fellow.
Besides, the dollar was still in her hand. She led
him into the cramped little barn, left him standing
and came out, closing the doors behind her. Then
256 "_I CONQUERED"
she set out for home, clasping the dollar and
thinking of Julio s smile.
The first shot attracted her. The second
alarmed, and those that followed terrified the
girl. She ran from the road ard hovered in the
shadow of a huge bowlder, watching fearfully,
uttering little moans of fright.
She heard everything. Some men ran past her
in the direction of Rhues s cabin, and she thought
one of them must be Julio. But she was too
frightened to stir, to try to determine ; too fright
ened to do anything but make for her own home.
The girl moved stealthily through the night,
facing the moon that swung low, unclouded again,
making all radiant. She wanted to run for home,
where she could hide under blankets, but caution
and fear held her to a walk. She did not cry out
when she stumbled over the body ; merely cowered,
holding both hands over her lips.
For a long time she stood by it, looking down,
not daring to stoop, not daring to go away. Then
the hand that sprawled on the dirt raised itself
fell back; the lips parted, a moan escaped, and
the head rolled from one side to the other.
The fear of dead things that had been on hej
passed. She saw only a human being who was
hurt. She dropped to her knees and took th*
head in her lap.
"Oh, por Dios! It is the senor who rode the
horse!" she muttered, and looked quickly ovet
her shoulder at the Rhues cabin.
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN 257
They left him; they thought he was dead,"
she went on aloud. "They should know; he
should be with them. They were going for him
when the shooting began!"
She looked closer into VB s face and he moaned
again. His eyes opened. The girl asked a
sharp question in Spanish.
"Is the senor much hurt?" she repeated in the
language he understood.
"Oh, Captain!" he moaned. "Why? Why
did you quit?"
She lifted him up then and he struggled slug
gishly to help himself.
Once he muttered: "Oh, Gail! It hurts so!"
She strained to the limits of her lithe strength
until she had him on his feet. Then she drew
one of his arms about her neck, bracing herself
to support his lagging weight.
"Come," she said comfortingly. "We will
go to them."
No light showed from the Rhues cabin, but the
girl was sure the men were there, or would com*
soon. Loyal to Julio for the dollar and th
memory of his graciousness, she worked with th<
heart of a good Samaritan, guiding the unconscious
steps of the muttering man toward the little darf
blot of houses.
It was a floundering progress. Twice in thf
first few rods the man went down and she was
sorely put to get him on his feet again. But the
moving about seemed to bring back his strength,
258 "_I CONQUERED"
and gradually he became better able to help
They crossed the road and passed through the
gap in the fence by the cabin. VB kept muttering
wildly, calling the girl Gail, calling for the Captain
in a plaintive voice.
"There they are now! See the light?" she
whispered. "It is not much. They have covered
the window. Yes."
"What?" VB asked, drawing a hand across
She repeated her assertion that the men were
in the cabin and he halted, refusing drunkenly
to go on.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I m
unarmed they "
But she tugged at him and forced him to go
beside her. They progressed slowly, painfully,
quietly. There was no sound, except VB s hard
breathing, for they trod in dust. They approached
the house and the girl put out a hand to help her
along with the burden.
A thin streak of light came from a window.
It seemed to slash deeply into the staggering
man, bringing him back to himself. Then a
sound, the low, worried nickering of a horse!
The Mexican girl felt the arm about her neck
tighten and tremble.
"The Captain!" VB muttered, looking about
He opened his lips to cry out to the horse as
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN 259
the events of the night poured back into his
consciousness, to cry his questioning and his
sorrow, to put into words the mourning for a
faith, but that cry never came from his throat.
The nickering of the stallion and the flood of
memory had brought him to a clear understanding
of the situation; a sudden glare of light from the
abruptly uncovered window before which he and
the girl stood provoked an alertness which was
abnormally keen, that played with the subjective
rather than the more cumbersome objective.
He stooped with the quickness of a drop and
vScuttled into the shadows, cautious, the first law
of man athrob.
The man who had brushed away the blanket
that had screened the window burst into irritated
talk. VB recognized him as Matson, Back in
the shadows of the room he saw the Mexican
A table was close to the window, so close that
in crow r ding behind it Matson had torn down the
blanket that had done service as a curtain. A
lamp burned on the table, its wick so high that
smoke streamed upward through the cracked
chimney. And close beside the lamp, eyes
glittering, cruel cunning in every line, the flush
of anger smearing it, was the face of Rhues!
VB, crouching there, saw then that Matson s
finger was leveled at Rhues.
"It ain t good money!"
That was the declaration Matson had made as
260 "_I CONQUERED"
the blanket slipped down and disclosed the scene.
He repeated it, and his voice rose to a snarl.
Delilah started to rise but VB jerked her back
with a vehemence that shot a new fear through
the girl, that made her breathe quickly and
loudly. For the first time he turned and looked
at the girl, not to discover who this might be thai
had brought him to the nest of those who sough*
his life, but to threaten.
"You stay here," he whispered sharply. "D
you make a sound, I 11 you 11 never forget it !
His face was close to hers and he wagged his
head to emphasize the warning.
Where she had expected to find a friend the
Mexican girl realized that she had encountered
a foe. Where she had, from the fullness of
her heart and for a dollar and the admiration
of Julio, sought to help, she knew now that she
had wronged. His intensity filled her with this
knowledge and sent her shrinking against the
wall of the cabin, a hand half raised to her cheek,
trembling, wanting to whimper for mercy.
"Keep still!" he warned again, and, stretchinp
one hand toward her as though to do sentry
duty, ready to throttle any sound, to stay any
flight, to bolster his commands, he crept closer
to the window.
"Why ain t it good?" Rhues was asking in ^
voice that carried no great conviction, as thoug ^
he merely stalled for time.
VB saw him stretch a bill close to the lamp
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN 261
and Matson lean low beside him. The light
fell on the piece of currency, not six feet from
VB s fever-bright eyes. He saw that they were
inspecting a fifty-dollar bill issued by the Con
federate States of America! And Rhues said
grudgingly: "Well, if that ain t good, they s
only six hunderd n all!"
Up came the buried memories, struggling
through all the welded events in the furnace
consciousness of the man who pressed his face so
close to the window s crinkly glass. His eyes
sought aimlessly for some object that might sug
gest a solution for the slipping thought he tried
to grasp. They found it found it in a rumpled,
coiled contrivance of leather that lay beside the
lamp. It was a money belt. The money belt
that Kelly, the horse buyer, had worn!
Six hundred dollars ! And a Confederate States
fifty-dollar bill! They were quarreling over the
spoils of that chill murder!
VB swayed unsteadily as he felt a rage swell
in him, a rage that nullified caution. He turned
his eyes back to the Mexican girl cringing just
out of his reach and moved the extended hand up
and down slowly to keep his warning fresh upon
her. He wanted time to think, just a moment
to determine what action would be most advisable.
His heart raced unevenly and he thought the hot
edges of his wound were blistering.
"That s two hundred apiece, then," Rhues
said, and straightened.
262 "_I CONQUERED"
VB saw that the hand which had dropped the
worthless piece of paper held a roll of yellow-
"Two hundred we all git," he growled. "You
git it, Julio gits it, I git it an I m th party
what done th work!"
VB stooped and grasped Delilah roughly by
the arm. He held a finger to his lips as he dragged
the shaking girl out to where she could see.
"Watch!" he commanded, close in her ear.
Watch Rhues and the others !
Rhues counted slowly, wetting his thumb with
hasty movements and dropping bills from the
roll to the table top.
Both you " he looked up to indicate Matson
and Julio "gits s much s me, an I done th
"An if we re snagged, we stand as good a
chanct o gettin away as you," Matson remarked,
and laughed shortly.
Rhues looked up again and narrowed the red
lids over his eyes.
"You said it!" he snarled. "That s why it s
good to keep yer mouths shut! That s why you
got to dig out with me.
"If I m snagged remember, they s plenty
o stories I could tell about you two an I will,
too, if I m snagged cause o you!"
He worked his shoulders in awkward gesture.
"An that s why we want our share," Matson
growled back. "An want it quick! We watched
TABLES TURN; AND TURN AGAIN 263
th road; you done th killin . We thought it
was jus to settle things with that , but it
wasn t. It was profitable."
He ended with another short laugh.
"Well, I said I d git him, did n t I? An I did,
didn t I? An if th first time went wrong it
was profitable, was n t it?"
"Yes, but queek, queeker!" the Mexican broke
in. "They might come now!"
"Well, quit snivelin !" snapped Rhues. "It
did n t go as we planned. I had to shoot fore
I wanted to. But I got him, didn t I?"
Julio reached for the pile of bills Rhues shoved
toward him; Matson took his; Rhues pocketed
the rest. And outside, VB relaxed his hold on
the girl s wrist, raising both hands upward and
out, fingers stiff and claw-like.
Kelly, good-natured, careless, likable, trusting
Kelly, had gone out to pay toll to this man s
viciousness; had gone because he, VB, would not
submit to Rhues s bullying! And now they
laughed, and called it a profitable mistake!
All his civilized, law-abiding nature rose in its
might. All that spirit which demands an eye
for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, which makes for
statutes and courts and the driving of nations
into fixed paths, lifted VB above any caution
that the circumstances could have engendered.
His whole nature cried out for the justice he had
been trained to respect; his single remaining
impulse was to make this man Rhues suffer for
264 _! CONQUERED"
the act of which there was such ample evidence.
He struggled to find a way toward retribution,
/or in a moment it might be too late. He had
no thought beyond the instant, no idea but to
possess himself of something more, to make the
case stronger for society. He had seen, he had
heard, he had the girl beside him, but he wanted
Matson moved away from the window and as
he did so the sash sagged inward. It was a
His hands numb from excitement, VB forced
his arms against it, shoving stoutly. The force
of his effort precipitated his head and shoulders
into the room! He had a flash of the three men
as they whirled and poised, with oaths, but his
mind did not linger on them. His fingers clutched
the money belt, drew it to him, and as Rhues
dropped a hand to his hip VB staggered backward
out of the window, stuffing the money belt inside
his shirt, in against the hot wound, and stared
For an instant, silence, as Rhues stood, gun
drawn, shoulders forward, gazing at the empty
window. Then upon them came a shrill, quaver
ing, anxious cry the call of the Captain.
LIFE, THE TROPHY
nPO VB, at the sound of the stallion s neigh-
-* ing, came the realization of his position -
weaponless in the midst of men who, now of all
times, would shoot to kill! His righteous abhor
rence of the murder Rhues had done and in which
the others had been conspirators did not lessen.
He did not falter in his determination for venge
ance; but his thirst for it did not detract one whit
from his realization of the situation s difficulties.
Seconds were precious. Just a lone instant
he poised, looking quickly about, and to his ears
came again the cry of the horse, plaintive, wor
"Captain!" he cried, and started to run.
"Captain! You didn t fail! They brought
His voice lifted to a shout as he rounded the
corner of the house, and the Captain answered.
With the horse located, VB stumbled across
the short intervening space, one hand to his
breast doing the double duty of attempting to
still the searing of that wound and hold fast to
the money belt. He flung himself at the door of
the low little stable, jerked the fastening apart,
and, backing in, saw men run from the house,
266 "__I CONQUERED"
heard them curse sharply, and saw them turn
and look, each with his shooting hand raised.
VB drew the door shut after him, trembling,
thinking swiftly. The Captain nosed him and
nickered relief, stepping about in his agitation as
though he knew the desperate nature of the
corner into which they had been driven.
"We ve got to get out, boy," VB cried, run
ning his numb hands over the animal s face in
caress. "We re up against it, but there s a way
It was good to be back. It was good to feel
that thick, firm neck again, to have the warm
breath of the vital beast on his cheek, to sense
his dominating presence for it did dominate,
even in that strained circumstance, and in the
stress VB found half hysterical joy and voiced it :
"You didn t quit, Captain!" he cried as he
felt the cinch hastily. "You did n t quit. They
that woman! She brought you here!"
He flung his arms about the stallion s head in a
quick, nervous embrace at the cost of a mighty
cutting pain across his chest.
Then the cautious voice of Rhues, outside and
close up to the door, talking lowly and swiftly:
"Julio, saddle th buckskin! Quick! I ll hold
him here till we re ready! Then I ll shoot th
- down in his tracks ! We got to ride, any
how nothin 11 make no difference now!"
Raising his voice, Rhues taunted:
"Pray, you ! Yer goin to cash!"
LIFE, THE TROPHY 267
VB pressed his face to a crack and saw Rhues
in the moonlight, close up to the door. He also
saw another man, Julio, leading a horse from the
corral on the run. Two other animals, saddled,
He was cornered, helpless, in their hands
hard hands, that knew no mercy. But he did
not give up. His mind worked nimbly, skipping
from possibility to possibility, looking, searching
for a way out.
He reeled to the black horse and felt the
animal s breath against the back of his neck.
"We re up against it, boy," he whispered.
And the voice of Rhues again: "They ll find
him to-morrow with th belt!"
He broke off suddenly, as though the words had
set in his mind a new idea.
VB did not hear; would not have heeded had
his senses registered the words, because an odd
apathy had come over him, dulling the pain of
his wound, deadening the realization of his danger.
He sighed deeply and shook himself and tried to
rally, but though a part of him insisted that he
gather his faculties and force them to alertness,
another tired, lethargic self overbore the warning.
Half consciously he pulled the stirrup toward
him, put up his foot with an unreal effort, and
laboriously drew himself to the saddle. There,
he leaned forward on his arms, which were
crossed on the Captain s neck, oblivious to all
268 "_I CONQUERED"
But the great stallion was not insensible to the
situation. He could not know the danger, but he
did know that he had been led into a strange
place, shut there and left virtually a prisoner;
ihat his master had burst in upon him atremble
yith communicable excitement; that strange
/oices were raised close to him ; that men had been
funning to and fro; that the sounds of struggling
horses were coming from out there; that some
man was standing on the other side of the door,
closer than most men had ever stood to him. He
breathed loudly; then stilled that breath to listen,
his head moving with frequent, short jerks as he
saw objects move past the cracks in the building.
He switched his tail about his hindquarters
sharply, and backed a step.
Another voice called softly to Rhues, and Rhues
"Dah! When I rolled him over his holster
flopped out of his shirt, empty. He dropped it
in th s loon. If he d had a gun he d done fer us
n there, would n t he?"
Then his voice was raised in a sharp command :
"Help him, Julio! Hang on to his ear an he ll
Sounds of men grunting, of a horse striving to
break from them; a sharp cry. These things -
and emanating from a scene taking place outside
the Captain s sight! He half wheeled and
scrubbed the back wall of the stable with his hip,
blowing loudly in fright. He stamped a forefoot
LIFE, THE TROPHY 269
impatiently; followed that by a brisk, nervous
pawing. He tossed his head and chewed his bit
briskly; then shook his head and blew loudly
again. He shied violently as a man ran past
the door, wheeled, crashed into the wall again
and, crouching, quivered violently.
VB moaned with pain. When the horse under
him had shied the boy had pushed himself erect
in the saddle and the effort tore at the wound in
his chest. The pain roused him, and as the
Captain again wheeled, frantic to find a way out
of this pen, VB s heels clapped inward to retain
his seat, the spurs drove home, and with a whimper
the horse reared to his hind legs, lunged forward,
and the front hoofs, shooting out, crashed squarely
against the closed door!
Under the force of the blow the door swept
outward, screaming on its rusty hinges. A third
of the way open it struck resistance, quivered,
seemed to hesitate, then continued on its arc.
A surprised, muffled shout, the sound of a body
striking ground, a shot, its stream of fire spitting
toward the night sky. Then the vicious smiting
of hoofs as the Captain, bearing his witless rider,
swung in a short circle and made for the river.
Rhues, caught and knocked flat by the burst
ing open of the door, was perhaps a half-dozen
seconds in getting to his feet. He came up
shooting, a stream of leaden missiles shrieking
aimlessly off into space. Julio and Matson, busy
with the refractory buckskin, heard the crash
2 7 o "_I CONQUERED"
and creak of the swinging door, heard the shout,
heard the shot; they turned to see the black
stallion sweep from the little building and swirl
past them, ears back, teeth gleaming, and bearing
to the north.
Still clinging to the buckskin s head, the Mexican
drew his gun; Matson, utterly bewildered, fearful
of impending consequences, gave the cinch a
final tug, but before Julio could fire the water of
the river was thrown in radiant spray as the
Captain floundered into midstream with VB low
on his neck.
Then Rhues was on them, putting into choking
words the vileness of his heart. He did not
Th - - horse ! Th door got me ! "
He seized the cheek strap of the buckskin s
bridle and swung up, while the others watched
the horse running out into the moonlit river.
The pony reared and pivoted on his hind legs.
"Git on yer hosses!" Rhues screeched, yanking
at the bit. "He can t git away, with his hoss run
down once to-night ! An if we let him we
Goaded by that terror they obeyed, hanging
spurs in their horses flanks before they found
stirrups, and the trio whirled down to the water.
"He s goin home!" Rhues cried above the
splashing. "That s our way out; we ll git him
as we go long! We ll ride him down; he ain t
got a gun ! An they 11 find him out yonder with
LIFE, THE TPOPHY 271
th money belt on him! We " He broke
short with a laugh. "We could claim th reward!
Two fifty, dead r alive!"
Matson snarled something. Then, as their
horses struggled up the far bank of the stream,
- with th reward ! What we want s a
"We re on our way now," growled Rhues, and
lashed his pony viciously with the ends of his
Knee to knee they raced, the ponies stretching
their heads far out in efforts to cover that light
ribbon of road which clove the cloudlike sage
brush and ate up the distance between their
position and that scudding blur ahead. Each
had his gun drawn and held high in the right
hand ready for use; each, with eyes only for that
before them, with minds only for speed and
quick speculation on what might happen should
The creak of leather, the sharp batter of hoofs,
the rattle of pebbles as they were thrown out
against the rocks, the excited breathing of horses :
A race, with human life the trophy!
And VB, looking back, saw. With set teeth
he leaned still lower over the Captain s neck in
spite of the raging the posture set up in his torn
breast. No will of his had directed the stallion
in that flight northward. His unexpected dash
through the barn door, the quick recognition of
272 "_1 CONgiTERiiD
the point they had scored, the sharp pang which
came when VB realized the fact that the horsed
break for home had cut him off from help that
might have remained in Ranger, left the wounded
man in a swirl of confused impressions.
Behind all the jumble was the big urge to reach
that place which had been the only true haven
of his experience. He felt a glimmer of solace
when he sensed that he was going home which
quite neutralized the terror that the glance at
those oncoming riders provoked. The comfort
inculcated by the idea grew into clear thinking;
from there on into the status of an obsession.
He was going home! He was on the way, with
that mighty beast under him! He raised more
of his weight to the stirrups and laid a reassuring
hand on the snapping shoulder of his horse.
And on his trail rode the merciless three, their
eyes following the bending course of the road,
hat-brims now blown back against the crowns,
now down over their eyes in the rush through the
night. Rhues rode a quarter of a length ahead
of the others, and his automatic was raised higher
than were their gun-hands. Now and then one
of the trio spoke sharply to his horse and grunted
as he raked with a spur, but for the greater part
of the time they did not lift their voices above
the thunder of the race. They knew what must
happen; they held their own, and waited!
"Go, boy, go!" whispered VB. "We ll run
their legs off; they ll never get in range!"
LIFE, THE TROPHY 273
The Captain held an attentive ear backward
a moment, then shot it forward, watching the
road, holding his rolling, space-eating stride. VB
turned his head and again looked back. They
were still there ! No nearer but he had not
shaken them off. Two, perhaps three, miles
had been covered and they hung by him, just
within sight, just beyond that point where they
might fire with an even chance of certainty. He
pressed his arm against his burning breast,
crowding the treasured money belt tighter against
the wound. Somehow, it seemed to dull the tor
ment, and for minutes he held the pressure con
stant, still lifted to supreme heights of endeavor
and ability to withstand suffering by the rage
that had welled up from his depths as he stood
back in the shadow of the cabin and had the
suspicion of how and why Kelly had met death
Another mile, and he turned to look back again.
They still hung there, making a blur in the moon
light, fanciful, half floating, but he knew they
were real, knew that they hammered their way
through the night with lust for his life!
Captain ! " he cried, apprehension rising. Go
it, boy; go it!"
He pressed a spur lightly against his side and
felt the great beast quiver between strides.
The pace quickened a trifle, but VB saw that the
ears were no longer held steadily to the fore, that
the head ducked with each leap forward as he
274 "I CONQUERED"
had never seen it duck before. And as the
thought with its killing remorse thundered into
his intelligence, VB sat erect in the saddle with
a gasp and a movement which staggered the
running animal that bore him.
The Captain s strength had been drained! For
twenty strides VB sat there, inert, a dead weight,
while grief came into his throat, into his vision,
deadening his mind. In all that melodrama which
began when he stared through the saloon door and
saw Rhues standing in the moonlight, gun ready,
the reason for his presence in Ranger, the history
of the earlier night, had been obliterated for the
time being. Now, as he felt the beast under him
labor, heard his heavy breathing, saw the froth
on his lips, it all came back to Young VB.
Oh, Captain ! " he wailed, leaning forward
again, eyes burning, throat choking.
And for a long time he rode as though unable
to do else but hold his position over the fork of
He was stunned, beaten down by poignant
remorse. The Captain had made the long ride
from Jed s to Ranger at a killing pace. VB
remembered acutely now that the stallion had
staggered as he emerged from Clear River and
came into view of the saloon lights. And he
had been there how long? An hour of poker,
perhaps; an hour more at the outside. Two
hours for the horse to regain the strength that
had been taken from him in that cruel ride a
LIFE, THE TROPHY 275
ride taken to satisfy the viciousness which made
VB a man uncertain of himself !
The Captain had been wasted! He had gone,
as had VB s heart and mind, to be a sacrifice for
hideous gods! In an hour of weakness he had
been offered, had been given gladly, and without
thought of his value! For had not VB gloried
in that ride to Ranger? Had it not been the end
of all things for him? An end for which he was
thankful ? Had it not been all conscious, witting,
planned ? It had and it had not been worth
The boy moaned aloud and wound his fingers
in the flapping mane.
"Captain!" he cried. "It was all wrong
all false! I threw you away an hour ago, and
now you re life to me! Oh, boy, will you
forgive? Can you?"
No fear of death tapped the wells of his grief.
There was only sorrow for his wasting of that
great animal, that splendid spirit, that clean
After a moment he sobbed: "You can t do
anything else but go on, boy ! You re that sort !
You ll go, then I ll go; anyhow, it will be to
And the great beast, blowing froth from his
lips, struggled on, while from behind came the
sounds of other running horses perhaps a
THE road writhed on through the sage brush
sixteen miles from Ranger before it branched.
Then to the right ran the S Bar S route, while
straight on it headed into Jed s ranch, and the
left-hand course, shooting away from the others
behind a long, rocky point, followed Sand Creek
up to the cluster of buildings which marked the
domicile of Dick Worth.
It was more than halfway. The Captain, now
trotting heavily, now breaking once more into
a floundering gallop, passed the first fork, that
leading toward Worth s. With a gulp of relief
VB saw that the moon hung low in the west
so low that the road home would be in the shadow
of the point, which seemed to come down pur
posely to split the highway. He might then
find refuge in darkness somewhere. He mus>
At the tenth mile he had suspected, now h^
knew, that it would be impossible to stand oiP 1
his pursuers clear to the ranch, and there were n
habitations between him and Jed s.
"They haven t gained on you, boy!" he cried
as he made out the distinct outlines of the point .
"They re right where they were at the star! !
No other horse in the world could have done
it ; not even you should be asked to do it but -
He choked back the sob that fought to come.
He knew he must concentrate his last energy,,
now. If he came through there would be time
to think of his crime against the Captain! But
now - Futures depend on lives. His life dan
gled in the balance, and he wanted it, as men
can want life only when they feel it slipping.
Back there three men raked the streaming sides
of their ponies with vicious spurs.
"He can t make it!" Rhues swore. "Th
black s quittin now! If he gits away, what
chance we got? We got to git him! It ll give
us th last chance!"
"We re killin our horses," growled Matson.
And Julio, a length behind, flogged his pinto
No craving for VB s life prompted Rhues
now. He must go on for the sake of his own
safety. He and those other two had all to gain
and nothing to lose. If they could drop the man
ahead it would be possible to skirt the ranches,
catch fresh horses, and make on toward Wyoming.
But let VB gain shelter with Jed or any one else,
and a posse would be on their trail before they
could be beyond reach.
No, there could be no turning back ! They had
made their bet; now they must back it with the
whole stack. And before them that blot in the
278 "_I CONQUERED"
moonlight a wounded, suffering man cried aloud
to the horse that moved so heavily under him.
"Make it to the point, Captain!" he begged.
"Just there! It ll be dark! Only a little faster,
The stallion grunted under the stress of his
effort, moving for the moment with less uncer
tainty, with a jot more speed.
They crawled up to the point and followed the
bend of the road as it led into the dimness of
the gulch. Across the way, far to the right,
moonlight fell on the cliffs, but where the
road hung close to the rise at the left all was in
To VB, entering the murk was like plunging from
the heat of glaring day to the cool of a forest.
The men behind him would be forced to come
twice as close before they could make firing
effective. Then, when he reached the ranch
He threw out an arm in a gesture of utter hope
lessness. Reach the ranch? He laughed aloud,
mocking his own guilelessness. He had come
only a little more than half the distance now,
and Captain could scarcely be held at a trot.
Three miles, possibly five, he might last, and then
his rider would have to face his pursuers with
His was the very epitome of despair. A weaker
man would have quit then, would have let the
stallion flounder to his finish, would have waited sub
missively for Rhues to come and shoot him down.
But VB possessed the strength of his desperation.
Rhues might get him now, as he had tried to
get him twice before, but he would get him by
fighting. Not wholly for himself did the boy
think, but for the likable, friendly Kelly, who had
died there in his blankets without warning. If
he could rid men of the menace which Rhues
represented he would have done service, and the
life of those last months had implanted within
him the will to be of use though, a few hours
back, he might have thought it all a delusion.
So VB was alert with the acute alertness of
mind which is given to humans when forced to
fight to preserve life when everything, the
buried subconscious impulses, the forgotten,
tucked-away memories, are in the fore, crying to
help. Abandoning hope of reaching Jed s, he
turned all his physical force, even, into the
mental effort to seek a way out; fought his way
to clarified thought, fought his way into logic.
He could not go on much longer; there was no
such thing as turning back, for he could hear
them, nearer now! He could hear the click of
pebbles as his pursuers horses sent them scatter
ing, and a pebble click will not travel far. Ahead
-weakening muscles; behind guns ready; to
the right moonlight; to the left
The bridle rein drew across the Captain s
lathered neck. The big beast swung to the left,
out of the road, crashed through the brush, and
lunged against the rise of rocks.
2 So "_I CONQUERED"
The horse seemed to sense the fact that this
was the one remaining chance, the last possi
bility left in their bag of tricks. He picked his
way up among the ragged bowlders and spiked
brush with a quickness of movement that told
of the breaking through into those reservoirs of
strength which are held in man and bea,st until
a last hope is found.
VB went suddenly faint. The loss of blood,
the pain, the stress of nervous thought, the know
ing that his full hand was on the table, caused
him to reel dizzily in the saddle. He made no
pretense of guiding the Captain. He merely
sagged forward and felt the horse lunge and
plunge and climb with him, heard the rasping
breath that seemed to come from a torn throat.
Below and behind, the trailers swept from
moonlight into shadow, horses wallowing as
though that hard road were in deep mud, so great
was the race that the stallion, spent though he
might be, had given them. Rhues was ahead,
revolver held higher than before, Matson s pony
at his flank and Julio a dozen lengths behind.
Bridle reins, knotted, hung loosely on their
horses necks; the three left hands rose and fell
and quirts swished viciously through the night air.
"We got to close in!" Rhues cried. "We ll
have him n a mile!"
And he called down on the heads of the horses
awful imprecations for their weakness.
On into the darkness they stormed, Julio
trailing. And when Rhues had passed by fifty
yards the point where the Captain had turned to
take the steep climb the Mexican opened his
throat in a cry, half of fright, half of exultation.
The Captain, almost at the end of his climb,
leaping from rise to rise, had missed his footing.
The soft earth slid as he jumped for a ledge of
rock, and the front feet, coming down on the
smooth surface in frantic clawing to prevent a
fall, sent fire streaming from their shoes. In the
darkness Julio had seen the orange sparks. At
his cry the others set their ponies back on haunches
and, following the Mexican, who now led, cursing
VB and their weakening mounts, they com
menced the climb. VB knew. The flash from
the stallion s feet had roused him; he heard the
shout; he knew what must follow. He gave no
heed to the bullet which bored the air above
him as he was silhouetted for the instant against
moonlit space before he commenced the drop
to the road leading up Sand Creek.
Where now? With a sigh which ended in a
quick choking, as though he were through, ready
to give up this ghost of a chance, ready to quit
struggling on, the Captain dropped from the last
little rim and turned into the road. Not on ahead
- into that void where they could ride him down.
Not back toward Ranger, for it was impossibly
far. Where then? What was there? Sand
Creek! And up Sand Creek was Dick Worth s!
VB caught his breath in a sob. It was the one
282 "__I CONQUERED"
goal open to him, though the odds were crushing.
He pressed the money belt tightly. Dick Worth
was the man who should have that Dick
Worth, deputy sheriff! He lifted his voice and
cried aloud the name of the deputy.
To the north once more the Captain headed,
and with no word from VB took up the floundering
way again. The boy looked behind and saw the
others commence the drop down the moonlit
point saw one of the blurs slump quickly and
heard a man scream. Then he leaned low on the
stallion and talked to the horse as he would talk
to a child who could pilot him to safety.
Behind him, along the road, came the blot
again, now, however, smaller. VB did not know
that it was Julio who had fallen, but he knew
with a fierce delight that the Captain, running
on his bare spirit, had killed off one of the
The boy grew hysterical. He chattered to the
stallion, knowing nothing of the words he uttered.
At times his lips moved but uttered no sound.
Continually his hands sought his breast. He
knew from the dampness that crept down his
side, on down into the trouser leg, that the wound
still bled, that his life was running out through
Through the clamoring of his heart a familiar
ache came into his throat, and the boy lifted his
voice into the night with a rant of rage, of self-
"Oh, Captain! You were the price!" he
But still he wanted just one drink ! Not to
satisfy that craving now, but to keep him alive,
a legitimate use for stimulant.
The stallion ceased pretense of galloping.
Now and then he even dropped from his uncer
tain trotting to a walk.
VB, watching behind, could just make out
those other travelers in the light of the low-
hanging moon which seemed to balance on the
ragged horizon and linger for sight of the finish
of this grim drama worked out in the lonely
stretches. As the horse stumbled more and
more frequently under him VB knew that those
w r ho pressed him were coming closer. Then
a flash of flame and a bullet spattered itself
against a rock ahead and to the right.
"They re closer, Captain!" he muttered grimly.
"The game s going against us against you.
I m too much of a burden too much weight."
His mind seized upon the aimless words. The
suddenness of his shifting in the saddle made
the stallion stagger, for VB s whole weight went
into the right stirrup. He drew the other up
with fiendish tinges shooting through his breast
and tore at the cinch. It came loose. The
saddle turned. VB flung his arms about the
Captain s neck and kicked it from under him.
"Fifty pounds gone!" he muttered tri
umphantly, and the horse tossed his head,
284 "I CONQUERED"
quickening the trot, trying once again the heavy
VB could hear the horse breathing through his
mouth. He looked down and saw that the long
tongue flopped from the lips with every movement
of the fine head. Tears came to his eyes as he
caressed the Captain s withers frantically.
"Can I do more, boy?" he asked in a strained
voice. "Can I do more?"
It was as though he pleaded with a dying
"Yes, I can do more!" he cried a moment later
in answer to his own question. "You ve given
your whole to me ; now I 11 give you back your
freedom, make you as free as you were the day
I took you. I ll strip you, boy!"
He reached far out along the neck, drawing
his weight up on the withers, and loosed the
head-stall. The bridle fell into the road and the
Captain ran naked! And, as though to show his
gratitude, the horse shook his head groggily and
reeled on in his crazy progress.
A half mile farther on the Captain fell. VB
went down heavily and mounted the waiting
horse again in a daze from which he was
roused by the fresh gushing on his breast.
Another shot from behind then two close
Dawn was coming. He looked around vaguely.
The moon was slipping away. Perhaps yet it
would be in at the finish. The shimmering light
of new day was taking from objects their ghostly
quality; making them real. The men behind
could see VB and they were . firing !
The boy said no word to the Captain. He
merely clamped his knees tighter and leaned
lower on his neck. He had ceased to think,
ceased to struggle. His trust, his life, was in the
shaking legs of the animal he rode, whose sweat
soaked through his clothing to mingle with the
The stallion breathed in great moaning sobs,
as though his heart were bursting, as though his
lungs were raw and bleeding. He reeled from
side to side crazily. Now and then he ran out
of the road and floundered blindly back. His
head hung low, almost to his knees, and swung
from side to side with each step, and at intervals
he raised it as though it were a great weight, to
gasp and to sob !
From behind, bullets. Rhues and Matson fired
grimly. They had ceased to lash their ponies,
for it was useless. The beasts were beyond giving
better service in return for punishment. Their
sides dripped blood, but they were beyond suffer
ing. Handicapped as he had been, the Captain
had held them off, almost stride for stride.
Better light now, but their shooting could not
hope to find a mark except through chance. They
cursed in glad snarls as they saw the stallion reel,
sink to his knees; then snarled again as they saw
him recover and go on at his drunken trot.
2 86 "_I CONQUERED"
Before VB s eyes floated a blotch of color. It
was golden, a diffused light that comforted him;
that, for some incomprehensible reason, was
soothing to the senses. It eased the wound, too,
and put new strength in his heart so that he could
feel the warm blood seeping slowly into his numb
arms and hands and fingers. He smiled foolishly
and hugged the Captain s neck as the horse reeled
along. Oh, it was a glorious color! He remem
bered the day he had seen a little patch of it
scudding along the roadway in the sunshine.
Why, it had seemed like concentrated sunshine
Gail, he murmured. It was you I did n t
want to put that mark on you!"
The nature of that color became clear to him
and he roused himself. It was a light a light
in a window the window of a ranch house
Dick Worth s ranch house!
Bullets had ceased to zip and sing and spatter.
He did not turn to see what had become of his
pursuers, for -he was capable of only one thought
at a time.
Dick Worth ! Dick Worth ! " he screamed.
Then he looked behind. Away to the left he
saw two riders pushing through the dawn, de-
touring. And he laughed, almost gayly.
Another blotch of light, a bigger one, showed
in the young day. It was an opened door, and
a deep chest gave forth an answer to his cry.
Dick Worth stepped from the threshold of his
home and ran to the gate to see better this crazy
figure which lurched toward him. It was a man
on foot, hatless, his face gray like the sky above,
hair tousled, eyes glowing red. He stumbled
to the fence and leaned there for support, holding
something forward, something limp and blood
Dick it s Kelly s money belt Rhues
he killed him He shot me he s got the
money on him he s swinging off west
two of em Their horses are all in He-
he shot Kelly because I would n t take a
drink he and I need a drink "
He slumped down against the fence.
After an uncertain age VB swam back from
that mental vacuity to reality. He saw, first,
that the Captain was beside him, standing there
breathing loudly, eyes closed, sobbing low at
every heave of his lungs.
A quavering moan made its way to the boy s
throat and he moved over, reaching out groping
arms for the stallion s lowered head.
"Captain!" he moaned. "Oh, boy it was
our last ride I can never ask you to carry
He hugged the face closer to his.
Then he heard a man s voice saying:
"Here, VB, take this it ll brace you up!"
He turned his face slowly, for the strength that
remained was far from certain. His wound was
288 "_I CONQUERED"
on fire, every nerve of his body laid bare. His
will to do began and ended with wanting to hold
that horse s head close. He was as a child,
stripped of every effect that the experiences of his
life could have had. He was weak, broken,
unwittingly searching for a way back to strength.
He turned his head halfway and beheld the
man stooping beside him who held in his hands
a bottle, uncorked, and from it came a strong
The boy dilated his nostrils and drew great
breaths laden with the fumes of the stuff. A
new life came into his eyes. They shone, they
sparkled. Activity came to those bare nerves,
and they raised their demands.
He opened his mouth and let the odor he in
haled play across that place in his throat. The
smell went on out through his arteries, through
his veins, along the nerves to the ends of his
being, to the core of his soul! He was down,
down in the depths, his very ego crying for the
stimulant, for something to help it come back.
He coaxed along that yearning, let it rise to
its fullest. Then he raised his eyes to meet the
concerned gaze of the other man. And the man
saw in those eyes a look that made him sway
back, that made him open his lips in surprise.
"To hell with that stuff!" the boy screamed.
"To hell with it! To hell to hell! It belongs
there! It it killed the Captain!"
Tears came with the sobs, and strength to
the arms that held the stallion s head; strength
that surged through his entire body, stilling those
nerves, throttling the crying of his throat. For
VB had gone down to his test, his real ordeal,
and had found himself not wanting.
JED AVERY sat alone. It was night, a
moonlight night in Colorado, the whole
world bathed in a cold radiance that conduces
to dreams and fantasies.
But as he sat alone Jed s mind wove no light
reveries. Far from it, indeed. He was sodden
in spirit, weakened in nerve.
He rested his body on the edge of a chair seat
and leaned far forward, elbows on his knees.
His fingers twined continually, and on occasion
one fist hammered the palm of the other hand.
"You old fool!" he whispered. "You old
fool! Now, if he s gone "
For twenty-four hours he had not dared frame
He lifted his eyes to the window, and against
the moonlight stood a bottle, its outlines dis
torted by incrustings of tallow. No candle was
in its neck. There was only the bottle.
After a time the old man got up and paced the
floor, three steps each way from the splotch of
moonlight that came through the window. He
had been walking that way for a night and a day
and now it was another night.
While it was daylight he had walked outside,
"THE LIGHT!" 291
eyes ever on the road, hoping, fearing. And no
one had come! Now, as the night wore on and
the boy did not return, Jed s condition bordered
His pacing became faster and more fast. He
lengthened the limits of his walk to those of the
room, and finally in desperation jerked open the
door to walk outside.
But he did not leave the threshold. Two
figures, a man and a horse, coming up the road
held him as though robbed of the will to move.
He stood and stared, breathing irregularly. The
man, who walked ahead, made his way slowly
toward the gate. He was followed by the horse,
followed as a dog might follow, for not so much
as a strap was on the animal. The man s move
ments were painful, those of the horse deliberate.
Jed knew both those figures too well to be mis
taken, even though his sight dimmed.
He wanted to cry out, but dared not. One
question alone crowded to get past his teeth.
The answer would mean supremest joy or sorrow.
Fear of the latter held him mute.
The man unfastened the gate and let it swing
open. "Come, boy," he said gently, and the big
animal stepped inside.
With the same slow movements again, the man
closed the bars.
Jed stood silent. A coyote high on the hills
lifted his voice in a thin yapping, and the sound
made Old VB shiver.
2 Q2 "_I CONQUERED"
The boy came slowly toward the house. He
saw Jed, but gave no sign, nor did the old man
move. He stood there, eyes on the other in a
misted stare, and VB stopped before him, putting
a hand against the wall for support.
Then came the question, popping its way
through unwilling, tight lips:
"Shall I light th candle, Young VB?"
His voice was shrill, strained, vibrant with
anxiety. But VB did not answer merely lifted
a hand to his hot head.
"VB, when you left last night th candle
dropped down into th bottle an went out.
I did n t dare light a new one to-night - His
voice broke, and he paused a moment. "I
did n t dare light it until I knowed. I ve been
settin in th dark here, thinkin things tryin
not to think dark things."
One hand went halfway to his mouth in fear
as he waited for the other to answer. VB put
a hand on Jed s shoulder, and the old man clamped
his cold fingers over it desperately.
"Yes, Jed light it," he said huskily. Then
he raised his head and looked at the old man with
a half smile. "Light it, Jed. Let it burn on
and on, just for the sake of being bright. But we
we don t need it any more. Not for the old
The cold hand twitched as it gripped the hot one.
"Not for the old reason, Jed," VB continued.
"There s a bigger, better, truer light burning
"THE LIGHT!" 293
now. It won t slip into the bottle; it can t be
blown out. It did n t waver when the true crisis
came. It ll always burn; it won t slip down into
the bottle. It s it s the real thing."
He staggered forward, and Jed caught him,
sobbing like a woman, a happy woman.
They had the whole story over then by the
light of a fresh candle.
When Jed started forward with a cry at the
recital of the shooting VB pushed him off.
" It s only a flesh wound ; it don t matter -
much. Mrs. Worth dressed it, and I m all right.
It s the Captain I want to tell about the
And he told it all, in short, choking sentences,
stripping his soul naked for the little rancher.
He did not spare himself, not one lone lash. He
ended, crushed and bleeding before the eyes of
his friend. After a pause he straightened back
in his chair, the new fire in his eyes, the fire the
man at Worth s had seen when he offered drink.
"But I ve got to make it up to the Captain
now," he said with a wild little laugh. "I ve got
to go on. He gave me the chance. He took me
into blackness, into the test I needed, and brought
me back to light. I ve got to be a man, Jed -
a man "
And throughout the night Jed Avery tended
the wound and watched and muttered with
joy in his heart.
294 "I CONQUERED"
Morning came, with quieted nerves for VB.
He lay in the bunk, weak, immobile.
Jed came in from tending the horses.
"He didn t bleed, did he, VB?"
"It ain t what you thought, sonny. It ain t
bad. Give him a rest an he ll be better n ever.
Why, he s out there now, head up, whisperin
for you! You can t break a spirit like his unless
you tear his vitals out ! "
VB smiled, and the smile swelled to a laugh.
"Oh, Jed, it makes me so happy! But it
won t be as it was. I can never let him carry
The old man turned on the boy a puzzled look.
"What you goin to do with him, VB turn
him loose again?"
"Not that, Jed; he would n t be happy. He ll
never carry me again, but perhaps perhaps he
could carry a light rider a girl a woman."
And from Jed: "Oh-o-o-o!"
An interval of silence.
"That is," muttered VB, "if she ll take him,
"Would you want him away from you?" the
old man insisted.
"Oh, I hope it won t be that, Jed! I hope
not but I want her to You understand.
Jed? You understand?"
The other nodded his head, a look of grave
tenderness in the old eyes.
"THE LIGHT!" 295
"Then then, Jed, I m all right. I can get
along alone. Would you mind riding over and
asking her if she d come
You see, Jed, I know now. I did n t before
I m sure it s worth the candle and there 11 be
no more darkness; no lasting night for her if "
Jed walked slowly out into the other room and
picked up his spurs. VB heard him strap them
on, heard his boots stamp across the floor and
"I d go, VB, but it ain t necessary."
The boy raised his head, and to his ears came
the bellow of a high-powered motor, the sound
growing more distinct with each passing second.
"Lord, how that woman s drivin !" Jed cried.
"Lordy!" And he ran from the house.
The bellow of the motor rose to a sound like
batteries of Catlings in action; then came the
wail of brakes.
With a pulsing thrill VB heard her voice up
raised with such a thrill that he did not catch
the dread in her tone as she questioned Jed.
She came to him swiftly, eyes dimmed with
tears, without words, and knelt by his bunk,
hands clasped about his head. For many minutes
they were so, VB gripping her fine, firm forearms.
Then she raised her face high.
"And you wouldn t let me help?" she asked
He looked at her long and soberly, and took
both her hands in his.
2 9 6 _! CONQUERED"
"It was the one place you couldn t help," he
muttered. "It was that sort my love, I
mean. I had to know; had to know that I
would n t put a hateful mark on you by loving.
I had to know that. Don t you see?"
She moved closer and came between him and
the sunshine that poured through the open door.
The glorious light was caught by her hair and
thrown, it seemed, to the veriest corners of the
dingy little room.
"The light!" he cried.
She settled against him, her lips on his, and
clung so. From outside came the shrilling call
of the Captain. VB crushed her closer.
To THE VICTOR
T IP the flagged walk to the house of chill,
^ white stone overlooking the North River
went a messenger, and through the imposing front
portal he handed a letter, hidden away in a sheaf
of others. A modest-appearing letter; indeed,
perhaps something less than modest; possibly
humble, for its corners were crumpled and its
edges frayed. Yet, of all the packages handed
him, Daniel Lenox, alone at his breakfast,
singled it out for the earliest attention.
And what he read was this:
In my last letter written ten years ago, it seems
I promised to tell you my whereabouts when I had
achieved certain ends. I now write to tell you that
I am at the Thorpe Ranch, one hundred and thirty
miles northwest of Colt, Colorado, the nearest railroad
I can inform you of this now because I have won
my fight against the thing which would have stripped
me of my manhood. And I want to make clear the
point that it was you, father, who showed me the way,
who made me realize to what depths I had gone.
I am very humble, for I know the powers that rule
When I left New York there was little in me to
298 "I CONQUERED"
interest you, but I am making bold enough to tell you
of the greatest thing in my life. I have won the love
of a good woman. We are to be married here the
twentieth, and some day I will want to bring her East
with me. I hope you will want to see her.
While the hand of the big clock made a quarter
circle the man sat inert in his chair; limp, weak
in body, spirit, and mind, whipped by the bitterest
lashes that human mind can conjure. Then he
raised his chin from his breast and rested his head
against the back of the chair, while his hands hung
loose at his sides.
His lips moved. "Hope you will want to
see her," he repeated in a whisper.
A pause, and again words:
"He would n t even ask me would n t dream
I wanted to be there!"
An old man, you would have said, old and
broken. The snap, the precision that had been
his outstanding characteristic, was gone. But
not for long. The change came before the
whispering had well died; the lines of purpose,
of decision, returned to his face, his arms ceased
to hang limp, the look in the eyes none the
less warm became definite, focused.
Suddenly Daniel Lenox sat erect and raised
the letter to the light once more.
"The twentieth!" he muttered. "And this
Another train fumed at the distances, left
TO THE VICTOR 299
cities behind, and crawled on across prairies to
mountain ranges. As it progressed, dispatchers,
one after another, sat farther forward in their
chairs and the alert keenness of their expression
grew a trifle sharper. For the Lenox Special,
New York to Colt, Colorado, invited disaster with
every mile of its frantic rush across country.
Freights, passenger trains, even the widely
advertised limiteds, edged off the tracks to let it
shriek on unhampered.
In the swaying private car sat the man who
had caused all this disarray of otherwise neat
schedules. At regular, short intervals his hand
traveled to watch-pocket and his blue eyes
scrutinized the dial of his timepiece as though
to detect a lie in the sharp, frank characters. In
the other hand, much of the time, were held
sheets of limp paper. They had been folded and
smoothed out again so many times and, though
he was an old man and one who thought mostly
in figures, fondled so much, that the ink on them
was all but obliterated in places.
He read and reread what was written there as
the train tore over the miles, and as he read the
great warmth came back to his eyes. With
it, at times, a fear came. When fear was there,
he tugged at his watch again.
Up grades, through canons, the special roared
its way. At every stop telegrams zitted ahead,
and hours before the train was due an automobile
waited by the depot platform at Colt.
3 oo "_I CONQUERED"
Daniel Lenox heeded not the enthusiastic train
men who held watches and calculated the broken
record as brakes screamed down and the race by
rail ended. Bag in hand, he strode across the
cinder platform and entered the waiting auto
mobile, without a single glance for the group that
looked at him wonderingly.
"You know the way to the Thorpe Ranch?"
he asked the driver of the car.
"Like a book!"
"Can you drive all night?"
"Good! We must be there as early to-morrow
And ten minutes before noon the next day the
heavy-eyed driver threw out his clutch and slowed
the car to a stop before the S Bar S ranch house.
Saddled horses were there, a score of them stand
ing with bridle reins down. Sounds of lifted
voices came from the house, quickly lulled as an
exclamation turned attention on the arrival.
From the ample door came a figure tall and
lean, well poised, shoulders square, feet firm on the
ground. Pale, true, but surely returning strength
was evidenced in his very bearing. VB s lips
moved. His father, halfway to him, stopped.
"Am I on time?" queried the older man.
With a cry the boy was up on him, grasping
both hands in his.
TO THE VICTOR 301
"I didn t dare hope you d want Dad,
it makes me so
The other looked almost fiercely into the boy s
face, clinging to the hands that clutched his,
shaking them tremblingly now and then. The
penetrating blue eyes searched out ever}r line
in the boy s countenance, and the look in them
grew to be such as VB had never seen before.
"Did you think I d stay back there in New
York and let you do all this alone? Did you
think I would n t come on, in time if I could, and
tell you how ashamed I am to have ever doubted
you, my own blood, how mean a thing was that
which I thought was faith?"
His gaze went from VB to Gail, coming toward
him clad all in simple white, flushing slightly as
she extended her hand. He turned to her, took
the hand, and looked deep into her big eyes.
He tried to speak, but words would not come and
he shook his head to drive back the choking
"Bless you!" he finally muttered. "Bless
you both. You re a man Danny. And
His voice failed again and he could only remain
mute, stroking the girl s hand.
Then Jed came up and greeted the newcomer
silently, a bit grimly, as though he had just for
given him something.
"Come over here, you thi^e," said VB, and
led them over to where two horses stood together
302 "_I CONQUERED"
One was the bay the boy had ridden that after
noon he charged down the ridge to make the
great stallion his, and beside him, towering, head
up, alert, regally self-conscious, stood the Cap
tain. The bay bore VB s saddle. On the Cap
tain s back perched one of smaller tree, silver
mounted and hand tooled, with stirrups that were
much too short for a man.
They looked the great horse over silently,
moving about him slowly, and Danny pointed out
his fine physical qualities to his father. A rattling
of wheels attracted them and they looked up to
see a team of free-stepping horses swing toward
them, drawing a light buckboard. The vehicle
stopped and from it stepped a man in the clothing
of a clergyman.
" He s here, VB , " Jed muttered. " To be sure,
an he s got his rope down, too. Th iron s hot;
th corral gate s open and he s goin to head you
in. T ain t often you see such a pair of high-
strung critters goin in so plumb docile, Mister
And from the corner of his eye he saw the man
beside him wipe his hand across his cheek, as
though to brush something away.
The Captain pawed the ground sharply. Then
he lifted his head high, drew a great breath, and
peered steadily off toward the distant ridges,
eagerly, confidently, as though he knew that much
waited out yonder.
CALIFORNIA WESTERN UNIVERSITY